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House at Peebles in which William and Ciiami;l]v.s weie boii 







On the death of my brother, Dr Robert Chambers, 
numerous Biographic sketches of him appeared in 
Great Britain and the United States, all of them kind 
and complimentary, but in many cases imperfect or 
>• erroneous as regards certain leading details. It seemed 

^ to me that, while still spared life and opportunity, I 

3J might try to do justice to the memory of the deceased, 
by giving a correct history of his life and principal 

^ writings. 

*^ The attempt, however, involved a difficulty. 

o Having been intimately associated with my brother, not 
only in early life, but in literary enterprises, it was 
scarcely possible to relate the story of one without 

G> frequent reference to the other. I have so far yielded 

v; to this necessity, as to ofter some Autobiographic 

ft Reminiscences, in connection with the principal object 

^^ in view. To this extent only is the Memoir that of two 

ii individuals. 

5 The retrospect of some early events, which could 

not well be omitted, has not been unaccompanied with 
poignant recollections ; but if a perusal of the narrative 



serves in any degree to inspire youth with notions of 
self-reliance, along with a hopeful dependence on 
Providence when pressed by adverse circumstances, I 
shall be more than recompensed. W. C. 

Janicary, 1872. 


From the favourable manner in which the Memoir has 
been received — the work having been carried through 
six large editions in less than twelve months — I have 
endeavoured to render it still more acceptable by a 
careful revision, and more especially by giving a few 
additional particulars concerning my brother's early life 
(including an account of his introduction to Sir Walter 
Scott), gathered chiefly from a volume of memoranda 
recently found in his library. W. C. 

January, 1873. 


To this edition a Supplementary Chapter has been 
added, giving an account of the closing years of the 
writer of this Memoir, and concluding with some notes 
on the personal characteristics of the two brothers. 

The Publishers. 
July, 1883. 




EARLY YEARS— 1800 TO 1813 5 





MY APPRENTICESHIP — 1814 TO 1819 85 




ROBERT'S WRITINGS — 1822 TO 1832 190 




SOME REMINISCENCES — 1822 TO 1832 220 








ROBERT'S LATER WORKS — 1842 TO 1865 273 







1865-1883 347 

INDEX 395 



EARLY YEARS — 1800 TO 1813. 

A /T Y brother and I were born and spent our early 
years in a small country town in the south of 
Scotland, situated amidst beautiful scenery, and had 
therefore the advantage of being acquainted from 
infancy with some of the noble works of nature, along 
with rural objects and circumstances. The place of 
our birth was Peebles, an ancient royal burgh on the 
upper part of the Tweed, where our ancestors had dwelt 
from time immemorial — the tradition among them being, 
that they were descended from a personage inscribed as 
' William de la Chaumbre, Bailif e Burgois de Pebles,' 
in the list of those who signed bonds of allegiance to 
Edward I. at Berwick-on-Tweed, 1296. However that 
might be, I was born in this little old burgh, i6th April 
1800; and Robert, coming next in order in the family, 
was born loth July 1802. 


For the place of birth and early associations almost 
every one has a peculiar affection ; and among the 
Scotch, as is well known, this feeling is a marked 
national characteristic. It will not seem surprising, 
therefore, that through life Robert cherished kindly 
remembrances of the scenes of his infancy. A few 
years previous to his decease, he began notes of what 
may have been intended as a memoir of himself, but 
which were not carried farther than reminiscences 
from the dawn of intelligence to about his tenth year. 
Fragmentary as are these memoranda, they abound in 
the geniality of sentiment for which the writer was 
remarkable, and serve to illustrate the state of things 
in certain by -corners of Scotland sixty to seventy 
years since. The following portions may accordingly be 
acceptable, supplemented here and there by such par- 
ticulars from my own remembrance as may help to 
complete the picture : 

* In the early years of this century,' he proceeds, 
' Peebles was little advanced from the condition in 
which it had mainly rested for several hundred years 
previously. It was eminently a quiet place — " As quiet 
as the grave or as Peebles," is a phrase used by Cock- 
burn. It was said to be a finished town, for no new 
houses (exceptions to be of course allowed for) were 
ever built in it. Situated, however, among beautiful 
pastoral hills, with a singularly pure atmosphere, and 
with the pellucid Tweed running over its pebbly bed 
close beside the streets, the town was acknowledged to 
be, in the fond language of its inhabitants, a bonny 
place. An honest old burgher was enabled by some 
strange chance to visit Paris, and was eagerly questioned, 


when he came back, as to the character of that capital 
of capitals ; to which, it is said, he answered that 
" Paris, a'thing considered, was a wonderful place — but 
still, Peebles for pleesure!" and this has often been 
cited as a ludicrous example of rustic prejudice and 
narrowness of judgment. But, on a fair interpretation 
of the old gentleman's words, he was not quite so 
benighted as at first appears. The " pleesures " of 
Peebles were the beauties of the situation and the 
opportunities of healthful recreation it afforded, and 
these were certainly considerable. 

' There was an old and a new town in Peebles — each 
of them a single street, or little more ; and as even the 
new town had an antique look, it may be inferred that 
the old looked old indeed. It was indeed chiefly com- 
posed of thatched cottages, occupied by weavers and 
labouring people — a primitive race of homely aspect, in 
many instances eking out a scanty subsistence by having 
a cow on the town common, or cultivating a rig of 
potatoes in the fields close to the town. Rows of 
porridge luggies (small wooden vessels) were to be seen 
cooling on window-soles ; a smell of peat smoke per- 
vaded the place ; the click of the shuttle was everywhere 
heard during the day ; and in the evening, the gray old 
men came out in their Kilmarnock night-caps, and 
talked of Bonaparte, on the stone seats beside their 
doors. The platters used in these humble dwellings 
were all of wood, and the spoons of horn ; knives and 
forks rather rare articles. The house was generally 
divided into two apartments by a couple of box-beds, 
placed end to end — a bad style of bed prevalent in 
cottages all over Scotland ; they were so close as almost 
to stitle the inmates. Among these humble people, all 


costumes, customs, and ways of living smacked of old 
times. You would see a venerable patriarch making 
his way to church on Sunday, with a long-backed, swing- 
tailed, light-blue coat of the style of George II., which 
was probably his marriage coat, and half a century old. 
His head-gear was a broad-brimmed blue bonnet. The 
old women came out on the same occasions in red 
scarfs, called cardinals, and white mutches (caps), bound 
by a black ribbon, with the gray hair folded back on the 
forehead. There was a great deal of drugget, and 
huckaback, and serge in that old world, and very litde 
cotton. One almost might think he saw the humbler 
Scotch people of the seventeenth century before his eyes. 
* In this old-town population, there survived two or 
three aged persons who professed an adherence to 
the Covenant and covenanted work of Reformation. 
One of these, designated Laird Baird, remains clearly 
daguerreotyped on my memory — a tall, bony, grim old 
man with blue rig-and-fur stockings rolled half way up 
his thighs, and a very umbrageous blue bonnet. His 
secular business consisted in thatching houses ; his inner 
life was a constant brooding over the sins of a perjured 
and sinful nation, and the various turns of public affairs, 
in which he traced the punishments inflicted upon us 
by an outraged Deity, for our laying aside the Solemn 
League and Covenant. He came up to my mother one 
summer evening, as she was standing at her door with 
her first-born in her arms. " Ye 're mickle pleased wi' 
that bairn, woman," said the laird gruffly. " If the 
French come, what will ye do wi' him ? I trow ye '11 be 
fleeing wi' him to the tap o' the Pentland Hills. But 
ye should rather pray that they may come. Ye should 
pray for judgments, woman — ^judgments on a sinfu' land. 


Pray that the Lord may pour out the vials of His wrath 
upon us — it would be for our guid." And then he went 
on his way, leaving the pretty young mother heart- 
chilled by his terrible words. Having known some- 
thing of old-town worthies of this kind, there was no 
novelty or surprise to me, a few years thereafter, 
when I read of Habakkuk Mucklewrath in Scott's Old 

' I had reason to know the old town in my earliest 
years, for our family then dwelt in it, though in a 
modem-slated house, which my father had had built for 
him by his father when about to be married. Our 
ancestors had been woollen manufacturers, substantial 
and respectable people, although living in a very plain 
style. My father growing up at the time when the 
cotton manufacture was introduced into Glasgow, had 
there studied it, and now conducted it on a pretty 
extensive scale at Peebles, having sometimes as many 
as a hundred looms in his employment. My earliest 
recollections bring before me a neat small mansion, 
fronting to the Eddleston Water ; a tastefully furnished 
sitting-room, containing a concealed bed, one or two 
other little rooms, and a kitchen ; a ground-floor full ot 
looms, and a garret full of webs and weft. Games at 
marbles played with my elder brother on the figures of 
the parlour carpet, when recovering from an illness, 
come back upon me as among the pleasantest things I 
have experienced in life ; or wandering into the work- 
shop below, it was a great entertainment to sit beside 
one of the weavers, and watch the movements of the 
heddles and treddles, and hear the songs and the 
gossip of the man. Weavers were topping operatives in 
those days, for they could realise two pounds a week, 


sometimes even more, and many young men of good 
connections had joined the trade. My father, as agent 
for several manufacturers in Glasgow, realised a good 
income, which enabled him to live on an equality with 
the best families of the place. 

' The farthest retrogression which any one can make 
in memory presents him a few obscure little matters start- 
ing out, as it were, from a back-ground of clouds and 
darkness. I can recall the little parlour, and a few of 
its decorations ; an alabaster time-piece and three round 
alabaster-framed pictures to match — a present from my 
mother's brother, William Gibson, an officer in the army. 
The prominent living figure in the parlour was a young 
woman, of elegant shape, and delicately beautiful small 
features, having a white cambric handkerchief crossing on 
her bosom, with a lozenge-shaped gold brooch at the cross- 
ing, and another thin cambric handkerchief tied loosely 
round her neck \ a being of lady-like grace and expres- 
sion, and scarcely yet in her twenty-fourth year, though 
already the mother of three children, of whom I was the 
second. Next to her in distinctness as a figure of the 
memory was the husband of this lady, a neatly made, 
rather short man in the prime of life, with a handsome 
cast of face and an intelligent look ; much given to 
reading and to music, being a tolerable performer on 
the German flute, fond of scientific conversation, kindly 
to children, and to everybody. There was but one 
servant — dear, kind, clever Jeanie Forbes, who used to 
charm my infant years with Scottish songs in wonderful 
abundance, and sang with a melodiousness that I have 
never heard surpassed. It was a delightful atmosphere 
for me, for of my father's music and of Jeanie's songs 
I never could tire. 


* To a child, of course, all things are new, and the 
first occurrence of anything to his awakened senses 
never fails to make a deep impression. I think I yet 
remember the first time I observingly saw the swelling 
green hills around our little town. I am sure I could 
point to within ten yards of the spot where I saw the 
first gowan and the first buttercup ; first heard the hum ■ 
of the mountain bee; first looked with wonder into a 
hedge-sparrow's nest, with its curious treasure of blue 
eggs. A radius of half a mile would have described the 
entire world of my infancy : of that world every minute 
feature remains deeply stamped within me, and will 
while life and consciousness endure. There is a great 
deal of studious observation in a child. Casual, trivial, 
and thoughtless words spoken by his seniors in his 
presence go into him, to be afterwards estimated and 
judged of; so it is a great mistake to speak indecorously 
before children. 

' At the time when I was coming upon the stage of 
the world, a number of old things were going out of it. 
The Rev. Dr Dalgliesh, the minister of the parish, still 
wore a cocked hat. He died in 1808; and I can just 
remember seeing him one Sunday, as he walked home 
from church, with that head-gear crowning his tall and 
dignified figure. There were still a few men with pig- 
tails whisking constantly over the collars of their coats. 
Spencers also still lingered in use. 

* Boots, formerly used only in riding and travelling, 
were in vogue with men who desired to be smartly 
dressed. One could either have top-hoots, that is, boots 
with a movable cincture of pale leather at top, or tassel- 
boots, by which was meant what were afterwards called 
Hessians, terminating in a wavy line under the knee, 


with a tassel hanging out over the middle in front. A 
buckish weaver, called Willie Paterson, had got a pair 
of tassel-boots, on which he could fasten tops, and thus 
enjoy tops or tassels at his pleasure. People meeting 
him when he went to church would say : " Willie, I see 
this is top-day with you." Top-day or tassel-day for 
Willie Paterson 's boots was a favourite joke. As an 
alternative for boots were gaiters to the knee, originally 
tight, but latterly lax, with vertical foldings. 

" Lax in their gaiters, laxer in their gait," 

is a line in the Rejected Addresses, which strongly recalls 
to me the year 1812. 

' The minister's chief elder in my early days was a cart 
and mill wright, a substantial citizen, related by marriage 
to our family, and with whose domestic life I was con- 
sequently well acquainted. Language fails me in express- 
ing my sense of the goodness and worth of this old 
man, though, from the narrowness of his sphere of life, 
he had never learned to temper his piety with any great 
share of liberality. He afforded a perfect example of 
the religious practice of a former age, and would have 
been considered rather stern by the bulk of his contem- 
poraries. Tammas, as he was familiarly called, had a 
large family of sons and daughters, whom he governed 
with relentless austerity. Any approach to gaiety of spirit 
was deemed highly improper, and dancing was positively 
sinful. This over-repressive policy — as in the case of 
Davie Deans — had no beneficial effect. Prevented from 
attending a respectably conducted dancing-school, his 
daughters stole out clandestinely in the evening to 
dances of not a very reputable character — a practice 
which led to some far from fortunate marriages. 

' I could forgive everything in Tammas but the 


Sternness. In the hands of men of his kind, Christianity 
did not appear as a religion of love ; it seemed almost 
wholly to consist in an imposition of irksome duties, 
and an abstinence from all natural and allowable enjoy- 
ments. A company of strolling players came to Peebles, 
and the manager went to Tammas, who was acting 
chief-magistrate in the absence of the provost, to 
negotiate for permission to use the town-hall as a 
theatre. When the suppliant approached, Tammas 
was hewing at a log out of doors, and stood with his 
axe suspended over his head while listening to the 

" I '11 oppose it with all the means in my poo'er, sir !" 
e.xclaimed Tammas fiercely. 

" Not with the hatchet, I hope, sir," responded the 
son of Thespis. 

' The poor man had to set up his scenes in the upper 
room of a public-house, used as a mason lodge, and met 
with fair encouragement. Thither my brother and I were 
taken to see /;d'/t' and Yarico. It was our first play.' 

In his picturesque reminiscence of Tammas, my 
brother has failed to mention a somewhat curious fact. 
The old worthy underwent a considerable softening of 
character in the last few years of his life ; and the con- 
version was all the more remarkable as being the result 
of reading a novel, Thaddeus of Warsaw, which an aged 
lady of kindly feeling persuaded him to peruse. The 
noble and pathetic sentiments of Miss Porter, in nar- 
rating the afflictions of her fictitious hero, touched the 
heart of the old Puritan, and did what no power on 
earth had been able to effect. What a pity that Tammas 
did not go to see Tnklc and Yarico ! 



'The new town was a smarter place than the old; 
yet it contained many homely old thatched houses, and 
few of any elegance. The shops were for the most part 
confined and choky places, with what were called half- 
doors, a bell being generally rung by customers to sum- 
mon the worthy trader. The shop of the candle-maker 
was provided with a bell-pull consisting of an old key 
dangling at the end of a cord, which was put in requisi- 
tion to summon "Candle Nell," as the female in 
charge of the establishment was familiarly called. No 
attempt was made to keep up an appearance of business. 
All was quiet and sombre by day, and in the evenings a 
dim candle on the counter made the only difference. A 
favourite position of the shop-keeper was to lean on his 
arms over the half-door, gazing abroad into the vacant 
street, or chatting with a casual by-stander. I do not 
think there were more than three traders in the town 
who had any apprentice or hired assistant. If the hus- 
band was out for a forenoon's fishing in the Tweed, his 
wife was his sufficient lieutenant. It seems to me 
remarkable that, small as the concerns generally were, 
the family life of these people was of a somewhat refined 
character. The tone of the females was far from being 
vulgar. Accomplishments, such as are now so common, 
were unknown; but all had a good education in English, 
and their conversation was not deficient in intelligence.' 

The mention of Candle Nell suggests that it was a 
common practice in the town to call people by their 
profession — as, for example. Baker Turnbull, Cooper 
Gibson — and such designations were extended to the 
wives, or it might be the sisters, of those personages. 
The wife of the cooper was styled Cooper Jean. A 


government official charged with the duty of taxing the 
windows throughout the county, was sarcastically dis- 
tinguished as Window Willie. A wildish lad, son of the 
cauper (maker of caups or wooden dishes), was never 
called anything but Cauper Jock. In some cases the 
prefixes were given from the locality. An ingenious 
blacksmith, who made a business of mending locks and 
guns, was known only as Vennel John. The county 
gave employment to a professional hunter of tods, 
or foxes, who, known generally as Tod-hunter Will, 
might, from his erratic character, have served as not a 
bad prototype of 'Tod Gabbie' in Guy Mannering. In 
the ' Tod Gabbie ' and ' Goose Gibbie ' of Scott, and 
the *Souter Johnnie' of Burns, we see that the Peebles 
people of past times were not exceptional in their 
system of nomenclature. 

Considering how little business was done, and also 
the easy way in which things were conducted, one would 
scarcely be prepared for the genteel interior of many of 
the dwellings, or for the tasteful dresses and courteous 
manners of the wives of the tradesmen. Though a trifle 
too obese, Candle Nell herself, when the shop was shut, 
could receive company in style, and addressed in her 
proper name, do the honours of her brother's household. 
A considerable number of persons kept a cow. The 
going forth of the town cows to their pasturage on a 
neighbouring hill, and their return, constituted leading 
and interesting events of the day. Early in the summer 
mornings, the inhabitants were roused by inharmonious 
sounds blown from an ox-horn by the town-herd, who 
leisurely ])erambulated the streets with a gray plaid 
twisted around his shoulders. Then came forth the 
cows, deliberately, one by one, from their respective 

ir, MEMOIR. 

quarters, and took their way instinctively by the bridge 
across the Tweed, their keeper coming up behind, to 
urge forward the loiterers. Before taking the ascent to 
the hill, the cows, in picturesque groups, might have 
been seen standing within the margin of the Minister's 
Pool, a smooth part of tlie river, which reflected on its 
glistening surface the figures of the animals in various 
attitudes, along with the surrounding scenery; the whole 
— river, cows, and trees — forming a tableau such as 
would have been an appropriate study for Berghem or 

There was much pleasant intercourse among families 
at a small cost. Scarcely any gave ceremonious dinners. 
Invitations to tea at six o'clock were common. After 
tea there were songs, with perhaps a round of Scottish 
proverbs — a class of sayings which, from their agreeable 
tartness, found scope for exercise in ordinary transac- 
tions, and were more especially useful in snubbing 
children, and keeping them in remembrance of theii 

The Peebles people were not behind their neighbours 
in the art of applying these maxims. As, for example, 
if a fastidious youth presumed to complain that his por- 
ridge was not altogether to his mind, he would have for 
reply: 'Lay your wame to your vvinnin" — that is, 'Suit 
your stomach to your earnings' — a staple observation in 
all such cases ; — Or, if one of unsettled habits got into 
a scrape, such as ' slumping ' in the ice, and coming 
home half-drowned, instead of being commiserated, he 
would be coolly reminded that ' An unhappy fish gets 
an unhappy bait;' — Or, if one hinted that he was 
hungry, and would not be the worse of something to eat, 
he would, if the application was inopportune, be favoured 


with the advice in dietetics : 'You'll be the better o' 
findin' the grunds o' your stamick ; ' — Or, if he, on the 
other hand, asked for a drink of water shortly after 
dinner, he would be told that ' Mickle meat taks mickle 
weet ; ' by which wholesome rebuke he was instructed 
in the excellent virtue of moderation in eating ; — Or, if 
one, when put to some kind of difficult task, said he 
wanted assistance, he would get the proverb pitched at 
him : * Help yoursel', and your friends will like you the 
better ; ' — Or, if, on being sent an errand, he ventured 
to complain of the distance, he would be told : 'It will 
be lang before' you wear to the knee-lids ; ' — Or, when 
a family of children quarrelled among themselves, and 
appealed to their mother for an edict of pacification, she 
would console them with the remark : ' You 'U all agree 
better when ye gang in at different kirk doors.' A 
capital thing were these proverbs and sayings for 
stamping out what were called notions of ' uppishness ' 
in children, or hopes of having everything their own way. 
It must not, however, be inferred, from a proficiency 
in hurling these repressive maxims, that there was any 
actual deficiency in the affections. Along with a singu- 
lar absence of demonstrativeness, there was often a spirit 
of true kindness. At that period, and till comparatively 
recent times, there was no demoralising poor-law, such 
as now exists, to steel the hearts of the people, and 
create paupers by wholesale. Those in easy circum- 
stances helped, and gave some little personal attention 
to, their poorer neighbours ; and I can remember that, 
on the occasion of a sudden death by a distressing 
accident in the family of a labouring man, the feelings 
of the whole community were munificently stirred up 
in compassion. 

1 8 MEMOIR. 

The country was still haunted by mendicants of 
various orders, including old decrepit women, who were 
carried about on hand-barrows from door to door, 
begging meal or halfpence. The town, also, was never 
without two or three natural idiots, generally harmless 
in character. The most interesting and amusing of 
these was Daft Jock Grey — or, to give him his proper 
title, ' Daft Jock Grey of Gilmanscleugh ' — a wanderer 
through Roxburgh, Selkirk, and Peebles shires, who was 
known to Sir Walter Scott, and possessed qualities not 
unlike those assigned to the character of Davie Gellatley. 
Jock, a simple good-natured being, was a kind of genius, 
had a great command of songs, and composed a ballad, 
which, commencing with an allusion to his own infirmity, 
recited, in jingling rhymes, the names and qualities of 
a number of persons whose houses he frequented in his 
extensive rambles. 

Hogmanay, the last day of the year, was the grand 
festival of all varieties of mendicants, daft folk, and 
children generally; for there was a 'universal distribu- 
tion of oat-cakes, cheese, shortbread, and buns at the 
doors of the inhabitants. Among those who secured a 
respectable dole on such occasions was the town-piper, 
dressed in a red uniform and cocked hat, as befitted 
a civic official. Piper Ritchie, for such was his name, 
enjoyed the munificent salary of a pound a year from the 
corporation, along with a pair of shoes ; and it was 
understood that, besides his dole at Hogmanay, he was 
entitled to receive at least a groat annually from all well- 
disposed householders. His emoluments were com- 
pleted by certain small fees for playing at weddings. In 
escorting a marriage-party, he marched with becoming 
importance in front, playing with might and main a tune 


called Welcome hame, my Dearie. It was part of his duty 
to march through the town every evening between nine 
and ten o'clock playing on his pipes, as a warning to 
the inhabitants to go to their beds. The poor piper 
died an aged man in July 1807. Robert, as recorded 
in his juvenile memoir, attended the piper's funeral, 
having had his first pair of trousers put on for the 

On Hogmanay day, tradesmen called personally with 
their yearly accounts, of which they received payment, 
along with some appropriate refreshment. There was 
first-footing on New-year's morning. And Handsel 
Monday — the first Monday in the year — was marked by 
tossing a profusion of ballads and penny chap-books 
from windows among a crowd of clamorous youngsters. 
New-year was also signalised by various domestic festiv- 
ities. The severity of manners of a hundred years earlier 
had worn off. There was unrebuked joviality at births 
and marriages, and even in a solemn way at deaths. In 
the house of the deceased, on the evening before the 
funeral, there was a Lyke-wake, consisting of a succes- 
sion of services of refreshments, presided over by an 
undertaker, one of whose professional recommendations 
consisted in saying a fresh grace to each batch of 
mourners. Laird Grieve, an aged and facetious car- 
penter, carried off the chief business in coffin-making, 
in consequence of being able to say seven graces of 
considerable length without repetition. The consump- 
tion of whisky at these lugubrious entertainments was 
incredible, and sometimes encroached seriously on the 
means of families. After the funeral, there was an 
entertainment called the Dredgy, which was a degree 
more cheerful than the preceding potations. 


Laird Grieve was the only representative of the fine 
arts in Peebles. In the town there was a house-painter, 
who could manage to paint the lettering of a sign-board, 
but was unable to execute anything pictorial. When 
a vintner, therefore, wished to embellish his sign with 
the alluring representation of a punch-bowl, a pint- 
stoup, or a few wine-glasses, flanked with two tobacco- 
pipes crosswise ; or, if more ambitious, he desired to 
have the figure of a black bull passant, a red lion 
rampant, or some other heraldic object stuck up over 
his door, the laird was applied to, and gave uncommon 
satisfaction — like Dick Tinto, taking payment in kind, 
for when the work was finished, the painter had already 
eaten and drunk out its value. In his old days, 
when the poor laird was less able for these artistic 
performances, and means fell short, he depended 
mainly on turning peg-tops for the school-boys, besides 
which handicraft, he resorted to the ingenious arti- 
fice of composing doggerel verses, to repeat in making 
a round of calls among friends. Any incident occurring 
in the town would answer as a theme. On repeating 
his verses, some slight refection was produced — and 
exit the laird satisfied. 

I may be excused offering this tribute of recollection 
to an aged man, who in his time meritoriously per- 
formed the useful part of town-carpenter, undertaker, 
artist, peg-top maker, and versifier; and who, from his 
facetious humours, kept the burgh in a degree of amuse- 
ment for more than half a century. 

Although the belief in witchcraft had died out gener- 
ally, it was still entertained in a limited way by the less 
enlightened classes. I have a recollection of a poor 
old woman being reputed as a witch, and that it was 


not safe to pass her cottage, without placing the thumb 
across the fourth finger, so as to form the figure of the 
cross. This species of exorcism I practised under 
instructions from boys older than myself I likewise 
remember seeing salt thrown on the fire, as a guard 
against the evil-eye, when aged women, suspected of 
not being quite canny, happened to call at a neigh- 
bour's dwelling. The aged postman, as was confidently 
reported, never went on his rounds with the letters 
without a sprig of rowan-tree (mountain-ash) in his 
pocket, as a preservative against malevolent influences. 
There was no police. Offenders against the law were 
usually captured by a town-officer, at the verbal 
command of the provost, who administered justice in an 
off-hand way behind his counter, amidst miscellaneous 
dealings with customers, and ordered off alleged delin- 
quents to prison without keeping any record of the 
transaction. Dismission from confinement took place 
in the like abrupt and arbitrary manner. 

As will be observed, there was still much of an old- 
world air about Peebles. The transit to and from it 
was tedious and expensive. In winter, when the roads 
were snowed up, the inhabitants were put to great 
straits. On one occasion, the town was without salt for 
a fortnight. Frequently, the carriers could not get for- 
ward until parties of men went to clear tlie way. Of this 
snowing-up I retain vivid recollections, for, there being 
no bank in the town, my father could not pay his work- 
men their weekly wages until the arrival of the carrier, 
who was fixed in a snow-wreath ten miles distant. On 
such occasions, there was a dearth of fuel, causing the 
poorer classes to rely for warmth on that species of 
deposit from cows, mixed with coal-culm and baked in 


the sun, which was used as fuel in various parts of 
England after the middle of last century. 

Although the town had existed for a thousand years oi 
more, it possessed no printing-press. Only two or three 
newspapers came to it in the course of a week, and these 
were handed about till they were in tatters. Advertise- 
ments were made by tuck of drum ; the official employed 
for the purpose being an old soldier, a tough little man 
with a queue, known as ' Drummer Will.' It was told 
of him that he had gallantly beat a drum at the battle 
of Quebec until the whole regiment had perished, he 
alone being the survivor, and still vigorously beating 
his drum like a hero amidst fire and shot. Now settled 
down as an officer of the civic corporation. Drummer 
Will usually performed the triple duty of acting as 
jailer, constable, and agent for advertisements, which, 
after collecting an audience, he read by means of a 
pair of Dutch spectacles, and always pronounced 

Robert describes the way that the more affluent 
burghers often spent their evenings. 

' The absence of excitement in the ordinary life of a 
small town, made it next to impossible for a man of social 
spirit to avoid convivial evening meetings, and these were 
frequent. The favourite hoiVj^'w^s an old-fashioned inn 
kept by a certain Miss Ritchie, a clever sprightly woman 
of irreproachable character, who, so far from the obse- 
quiousness of her profession, required to be treated by 
her guests with no small amount of deference, and, in 
especial, would never allow them to have liquor after 
a decent hour. When that hour arrived — I think it 
was the Forbes-Mackenzie hour of eleven — it was vain 


for them to ask a fresh supply. " Na, na ; gang hame to 
your wives and bairns," was her dictum, and it was 
impossible for them to sit much longer. "Meg Dods" in 
Si Ronatis Well is what I would call a rough and strong 
portraiture of Miss Ritchie — a Miss Ritchie of a lower 
sphere of life — and, if I may judge from a conversation 
I once had with Sir Walter Scott regarding the supposed 
prototype, I think he knew little about her. The totit- 
ense/fible of the actual inn — a laird's town-house of the 
seventeenth centur}-, with a grandc cour in front, acces- 
sible by an arched gate surmounted by a dial — Avith the 
little low-ceiled rooms, and Miss Ritchie herself, ruling 
house, and servants, and guests with her clear head and 
ready tongue, jocosely sharp with everybody, forms a 
picture in my mind to which I should now vainly seek 
to find a parallel. 

' Our neighbour, Laird Grieve, the aged joiner and 
undertaker, had a son, " Tam," who succeeded to his 
business. Tam was a blithe, hearty man, with an old- 
fashioned gentility in his aspect, and was a general 
favourite in the town, which he served for many years in 
the capacity of a bailie. He had a small carpenter's 
shop, and a saw-pit, and an appearance of uncut logs 
about his premises ; but I never could connect the idea 
of either work or business with Bailie Grieve. He 
continued, however, all through life to have a kind of 
eminence as a maker of fishing-rods ; and as a sort of 
stand-by in his pinched circumstances, he followed his 
father's profession of making peg-tops, or peeries, for the 
school-boys. His dingy little workshop — a low thatched 
building in which there was a strange confusion of work- 
benches, turning-lathes, bits of wood, and shavings — 
was therefore an interesting resort for youth. Tam was 


also an excellent angler, in which capacity he was well 
known to the late Professcw Wilson. 

' It used to be very pleasant, in returning to Peebles 
as a visitor, to call upon Tarn at his neat, small, white 
house, near the bottom of the old town, where, in a 
miniature terraced garden with a neat white railing, I 
saw tulips for the first time, and thought them the 
prettiest objects in creation. Being a widower and 
without children, the bailie had an old woman. Bet, for 
a general servant and housekeeper ; and her reception 
of us, as she opened the door, and shewed us into her 
master's little, low-ceiled parlour, was always of an 
enthusiastic character. Presently there would be a gust 
of kindly and somewhat vociferous talk, Bet standing 
within the door (but holding it by the handle) all the 
time, and lending in her word whenever she had occa- 
sion. Dear traits of the old simple world, how delight- 
ful to recall you in these scenes of comparative refinement 
and comparative stiftness and frigidity!' 

In Robert's reminiscences of the town in our boyish 
days, he omits to notice some traits of character essen- 
tially Scotch, which I should imagine are now so 
entirely obliterated as to be unknown even by the 
living generation. 

Among that considerable part of the population who 
lived down closes and in old thatched cottages, news 
circulated at third or fourth hand, or was merged in 
conversation on religious or other topics. My brother 
and I derived much enjoyment, not to say instruction, 
from the singing of old ballads, and the telling of 
legendary stories, by a kind old female relative, the 
wife of a decayed tradesman, who dwelt in one of 


the ancient closes. At her humble fireside, under 
the canopy of a huge chimney, where her half-bhnd and 
superannuated husband sat dozing in a chair, the battle 
of Corunna and other prevailing news was strangely 
mingled with disquisitions on the Jewish wars. The 
source of this interesting conversation was a well-worn 
copy of L'Estrange's translation of Josephus, a small 
folio of date 1720. The envied possessor of the work 
was Tarn Fleck, ' a flichty chield,' as he was considered, 
who, not particularly steady at his legitimate employ- 
ment, struck out a sort of profession by going about in 
the evenings with his Josephus, which he read as the 
current news ; the only light he had for doing so being 
usually that imparted by the flickering blaze of a piece 
of parrot coal. It was his practice not to read more 
than from two to three pages at a time, interlarded with 
sagacious remarks of his own by way of foot-notes, and 
in this way he sustained an extraordinary interest in the 
narrative. Retailing the matter with great equability in 
different households, Tarn kept all at the same point of 
information, and wound them up with a corresponding 
anxiety as to the issue of some moving event in Hebrew 
annals. Although in this way he went through a course 
of Josephus yearly, the novelty somehow never seemed 
to wear off. 

*WeeI, Tam, what's the news the nicht?' would old 
Geordie Murray say, as Tam entered with his Josephus 
under his arm, and seated himself at the family fireside. 

* Bad news, bad news,' replied Tam. ' Titus has 
begun to besiege Jerusalem — it 's gaun to be a terrible 
business ;' and then he opened his budget of intelligence, 
to which all jtaid the most reverential attention. The 
protracted and severe famine which was endured by the 


besieged Jews, was a theme which kept several families 
in a state of agony for a week ; and when Tarn in his 
readings came to the final conflict and destruction of 
the city by the Roman general, there was a perfect 
paroxysm of horror. At such seances my brother and I 
were delighted Hsteners. All honour to the memory of 
Tam Fleck. 

In the old-town community, where he often figured, 
our more immediate paternal ancestors, as enjoying the 
fruits of uninterrupted frugality and industry for centuries, 
had attained to a somewhat enviable position. My 
grandfather, William Chambers, continuing the occupa- 
tion of his predecessors, carried on the manufacture of 
woollen and linen cloths, on what would now be called 
an antiquated and meagre scale, in a long thatched 
building at the corner of a quadrangle which in old 
times had formed the market-place of the town. One 
end of this homely structure was his dwelling, consisting 
of two apartments ; and in the other were several hand- 
looms and warping machines. All the family laboured 
according to their ability, and the whole arrangements 
were of a thrifty kind, not absolutely enjoined by the 
pressure of daily wants, but conformable to the ordinary 
usages of the period. 

The whole establishment might be taken as a type of a 
state of society once common in the smaller provincial 
towns of Scotland; and contrasting it with the present 
state of things, we may observe the remarkable advances 
which have been made in the country since the latter part 
of the eighteenth centur}'. Here was a man of some 
consideration — an independent manufacturer, so to 
speak — and in no respect penurious, living in a style 
inferior to that of any mechanic in the present day 


with a wage of only twenty shillings a week. No 
elegances, nor what we now deem indispensable com- 
forts. When people are inclined to grumble with their 
accommodations, and to speak of the dearth of luxuries, 
would it not be well for them, in however small a degree, 
to compare their condition with that of their grand- 
fathers three-quarters of a century ago ? 

Upright, pious, and benevolent, my grandfather very 
acceptably held the office of an elder of the church for 
the last thirty years of his existence. To the poor and 
wretched he was an ever-ready friend, adviser, and 
consoler. I have heard it related that on Sunday 
evenings he would return exhausted with his religious 
peregrinations and exercises — having, in the course of a 
few hours, visited perhaps as many as a dozen sick or 
dying persons, and oftcred up an extempore and suitable 
prayer with each. At his death, in 1799, this worthy 
man left his widow and second son, William, to carry 
on the business; my father James, the elder son, having 
about the same period begun his cotton-manufacturing 

Of this widow, my grandmother, I retain some recol- 
lections. According to an old custom in Scotland, she 
was, though married, known only by her maiden name, 
which was Margaret Kerr. Margaret was a little woman, 
of plain appearance, a great stickler on points of con- 
troversial divinity, a rigorous critic of sermons, and a 
severe censor of what she considered degenerating 
manners. She possessed a good deal of ' character,' and 
might almost be taken for the original of Mause Head- 
rigg. As the wife of a ruling elder, she possibly 
imagined that she was entitled to exercise a certain 
authority in ecclesiastical matters. An anecdote is told 


of her having once taken the venerable Dr DalgHesh, 
the parish minister, through hands. In presence of a 
number of neighbours, she thought fit to lecture him on 
that particularly delicate subject, his wife's dress : ' It 
was a sin and a shame to see sae mickle finery.' 

The minister did not deny the charge, but dexterously 
encountered her with the Socratic method of argument : 
'So, Margaret, you think that ornament is useless and 
sinful in a lady's dress?' 

' Certainly I do.' 

' Then, may I ask why you wear that ribbon around 
your cap ? A piece of cord would surely do quite as 

Disconcerted with this unforeseen turn of affairs, 
Margaret determinedly rejoined in an under-tone : 
* Ye '11 no hae lang to speer sic a Hke question.' 

Next day her cap was bound with a piece of white 
tape ; and never afterwards, till the day of her death, 
did she wear a ribbon, or any morsel of ornament. I 
am doubtful if we could match this out of Scotland. 
For a novelist to depict characters of this kind, he would 
require to see them in real life ; no imagination could 
reach them. Sir Walter Scott both saw and talked with 
them, for they were not extinct in his day. 

The mortifying rebuff about the ribbon perhaps had 
some influence in making my ancestress a Seceder. 
As she lived near the manse, I am afraid she must have 
been a good deal of a thorn in the side of the parish 
minister, notwithstanding all the palliatives of her good- 
natured husband, the elder. At length an incident 
occurred, which sent her abruptly off to a recently 
erected meeting-house, to which a promising young 
preacher, Mr Leckie, had been appointed. 


It was a bright summer morning about five o'clock, 
when Margaret left her husband's side as usual, and 
went out to see her cow attended to. Before three 
minutes had elapsed, her husband was aroused by her 
coming in with dismal cries : ' Eh, sirs ! eh, sirs ! did I 
ever think to live to see the day? O man, O man, 
O William — this is a terrible thing indeed ! Could I 
ever have thought to see't?' 

'Gracious, woman!' exclaimed the worthy elder, by 
this time fully awake, ' what is 't? Is the coo deid?' 
for it seemed to him that no greater calamity could have 
been expected to produce such doleful exclamations. 

' The coo deid ! ' responded Margaret ; ' waur, waur, 
ten times waur. There 's Dr Dalgliesh only now gaun 
hame at five o'clock in the morning. It's awfu', it's 
awfu' ! What will things come to ?' 

The elder, though a pattern of propriety himself, is 
not recorded as having taken any but a mild view of 
the minister's conduct, more particularly as he knew 
that the patron of the jjarish was at Miss Ritchie's inn, 
and that the reverend divine might have been detained 
rather late with him against his will. The strenuous 
Margaret drew no such charitable conclusions. She 
joined the Secession congregation next day, and never 
again attended the parish church. 



"DEFORE introducing my mother to the modest 
■^-^ mansion, the first home of her married hfe, 
situated on the north bank of the Eddleston Water, a 
small tributary of the Tweed, something characteristic 
of old Scotland may be said of her parentage : and 
here we return to Robert's manuscript. 

' In the middle of the last century, the farm of Jedder- 
field, situated on the hill-face above Neidpath Castle, a 
mile from Peebles, the property of the Earl of March, was 
occupied, at the rent of eighteen pounds, by an honest 
man named David Grieve. While the noble proprietor 
was pursuing his career of sport and debauchery in 
London — the course which was consummated by him 
many years after, under the title which he finally 
acquired of Duke of Queensberry (familiarly 0/d Q.), 
the tenant, David Grieve, reared on that small bit of 
his lordship's domains a family of fourteen children, 
most of whom floated on by their own merits to much 
superior positions in life — one to be a merchant in 
Manchester, two to similar positions in Edinburgh, one 
to be a surgeon in the East India Company's service, 

NEWBY. 31 

and so forth. This family afforded an example of the 
virtuous frugal life of the rural people of Scotland 
previous to that extension of industry which brought 
wealth and many comforts into our country. The 
breakfast was oatmeal porridge; the supper, a thinner 
farinaceous composition named sowens ; for the dinner, 
there was seldom butcher-meat : the ordinary mess was 
a thin broth called Lenten kail, composed of a ball of 
oatmeal kneaded up with butter, boiled in an infusion 
of cabbage, and eaten with barley or pease-meal 
bannocks. Strange as it may seem, a people of many 
fine qualities were reared in this plain style, a people of 
bone and muscle, mentally as well as physically — 
" buirdly chiels and clever hizzies," as Burns says. 
There was not a particle of luxury in that Sabine life ; 
hardly a single article of the kinds sold in shops was 
used. The food was all obtained from the farm, and 
the clothing was wholly of homespun. I cannot be 
under any mistake about it, for I have often heard the 
household and its ways described by my maternal grand- 
mother, who was David Grieve's eldest daughter. Even 
the education of the children was conducted at home, 
the mother giving them lessons while seated at her 

* Janet, the eldest girl, was wedded at eighteen by a 
middle-aged farmer, named William Gibson, who rented a 
large tract of pasturage belonging to Dr Hay of Haystoun. 
This farm, called Newby, was not less than seven miles 
long; it commenced near Haystoun, about two miles 
from Peebles, and at the other extremity bordered on 
Blackhouse, in Selkirkshire, where the Ettrick Shepherd 
spent his youthful days. The Gibsons were a numerous 
clan in Tweeddale, and some of them, including the 


tenant of Newby, were comparatively wealthy.' In 
marrying William Gibson, Janet Grieve was thought to 
make an enviable match, and of this there were some 
outward tokens. The marriage took place in 1768. 
On the day preceding the event, Janet's * providing,' 
which was sumptuous, was despatched in a cart from 
Jedderfield to what was to be her new home ; the load 
of various articles being conspicuously surmounted by 
a spinning-wheel, decorated with ribbons of different 
colours. In the present day, we should in vain look 
for this old farm-establishment, for every vestige of it is 
gone ; and we only discover the spot, which is the edge 
of a bank overhanging Haystoun Burn, by a decayed 
tree that flourished in the comer of the small garden. 

'There was a much less frugal style of life at 
Newby than at Jedderfield. Although the homestead 
consisted of only a cottage, containing a kitchen and 
parlour, with the appendages of a barn, &c., it gave 
shelter every night to groups of vagrant people, the multi- 
tude of whom was a matter of remark and lamentation a 
few years before to Fletcher of Salton and other patriots. 
On a Saturday night there would be as many as twenty 
of these poor creatures received by the farmer for food 
and lodging till Monday morning. Some of them, who 
had established a good character, were entertained in 
the farmer's hcC, where himself, his wife, and servants 
ordinarily sat, as was the fashion of that time. The 
family rather relished this society, for from hardly any 
other source did they ever obtain any of the news of the 
country. One well-remembered guest of this order was 
a robust old man named Andrew Gemmells, who had 
been a dragoon in his youth, but had long assumed the 
blue gown and badge of a kings bedesman, or licensed 


beggar, together with the meal-pocks and long staff. 
A rough and ready tongue, and a picturesque if not 
venerable aspect, had recommended Andrew in many 
households superior to my grandfather's. 

' Sir Walter Scott, who commemorates him under the 
name of Edie Ochiltree, tells how a laird was found one 
day playing at draughts with Gemmells, the only mark of 
distinction of rank presented in the case being that the 
laird sat in his parlour, and the blue-gown in the court 
outside, the board being placed on the sill of the open 
window between. I can corroborate the view which we 
thus acquire of the old beggar's position by stating that 
tlie guidwife of Newby learned the game of draughts 
— commonly called in Scotland the dam-brod — from 
Andrew Gemmells, and often played with him at her hall 
fireside. Somewhat to his disgust, the pupil became in 
time the equal of the master, and a visitor one day 
backed her against him for a guinea, which the old man 
did not scruple to stake, and which he could easily have 
paid if unsuccessful, as he carried a good deal of money 
about his person. When it appeared, however, that she 
was about to gain the game, Andrew lost his temper, or 
affected to do so, and, hastily snatching up the board, 
threw the " men " into the ash-pit. Andrew circulated 
all through the counties of Peebles, Selkirk, and Rox- 
burgh, going from house to house, and getting an awmos 
(alms), with lodging if necessary, at each, appreciated 
as an original wherever he came — everywhere civilly 
and even kindly treated. It must have been on the 
whole a pleasant life for the old man, but one that 
could only be so while the primitive simple style of 
farm-life subsisted — that is, while the farmer, his wife, 
and children, still herded in the same room with their 


servants, and were not above holding converse with the 
remembered beggar. Perhaps poor Andrew found at 
last that things were taking an unfavourable turn for 
him, for he died in an out-house at a farm in the parish 
of Roxburgh, in the month of February too (1794)- 

' My grandmother and her maids were generally up at 
an early hour in the morning to attend to the ewes, and 
their time for going to rest must have consequently been 
an early one. There was always, however, a period, 
called " between gloaming and supper-time," during 
which another industry was practised. Then it was that 
the wheels were brought out for the spinning of the yarn 
which was to constitute the clothing of the family. And 
I often think that it must have been a pleasing sight in 
that humble hall — the handsome young mistress amidst 
her troop of maidens, all busy with foot and finger, 
while the shepherds and their master, and one or two 
favoured gaberlunzies, would be telling stories or cracking 
jokes for the general entertainment, or some one with 
a good voice would be singing the songs of Ramsay and 
Hamilton. At a certain time of the year, the guidwife 
had to lay aside the ordinary little wheel, by which lint 
was spun, and take to the " muckle wheel," which was 
required for the production of woollen thread, the 
material of the goodman's clothes, or else the " reel," on 
which she reduced the product of the little wheel to 
hanks for the weaver. Even the Misses Hay were great 
lint spinners, and I suspect that their familiar acquaint- 
ance with the guidwife of Newby depended somewhat 
on their common devotion to the wheel. 

' It was on this farm of Newby, while in the posses- 
sion of Mr Gibson, in the year 1772, that there occurred 
a case of the sagacity of the shepherd's dog, which has 


often been adverted to in books, but seldom with correct- 
ness as to the details. A store-farmer, in another part of 
the county, had commenced a system of sheep-stealing, 
which he was believed to have practised without detec- 
tion for several years. At length, a ewe which had 
been taken amongst other sheep from Newby, reappeared 
on the farm, bearing a bini (Anglice, brand) on her face 
in addition to that of her true owner. The animal was 
believed to have been attracted to her former home by 
the instinct of affection towards the lamb from whom 
she had been separated, and her return was the more 
remarkable as it involved the necessity of her crossing 
the river Tweed. The shepherd, James Hislop, did 
not fail to report the reappearance of the ewe to his 
master, and it was not long before they ascertained 
whose brand it was which had been impressed over Mr 
Gibson's. As many sheep had been for some time 
missed out of the stock, it was thought proper that 
Hislop should pay a visit to Mr Murdison's farm, where 
he quickly discovered a considerable number of sheep 
bearing Mr Gibson's brand O, all having Mr Murdison's, 
the letter T, superimposed. In short, Murdison and 
his shepherd Miller were apprehended, tried, convicted, 
and duly hanged in the Grassmarket — a startling exhibi- 
tion, considering the position of the sufferers in life, and 
made the more so by the humbler man choosing to 
come upon the scaffold in his '• dead-cluthes." The 
long-continued success of the crime of these wrel( iied 
men was found to have depended on the wonderful 
human-like sense of Miller's dog Wtrroiv. Aecompanietl 
by Yarrow, the man would take an opportunity of 
visiting a neighbouring farm and looking through the 
flocks. He had there only to point out certain sheep 


to his sagacious companion, who would come that night, 
select each animal so pointed out, bring them together, 
and drive them across country, and, moreover, across 
the Tweed, to his master's farm, never once undergoing 
detection. The story ran that the dog was hanged 
soon after his master, as being thought a dangerous 
creature in a country full of flocks ; but I would hope 
that this was a false rumour, and my grandmother, who 
might have known all the circumstances connected with 
the case, never affirmed its truth.' 

About 1780, Mr Gibson retired with a moderate 
competency to Peebles, where he concluded his days. 
Here were born to him a girl and boy, who at his death 
were left in charge of their mother and several appointed 
guardians. Unfortunately, as regards these children, 
their mother made a second marriage with a teacher, 
Mr Robert Noble, and in the short space of two to 
three years she was again left a widow, with an addition 
of two boys, Robert and David, without any provision 
whatever from this new connection. To the two young 
Gibsons, Jean and her brother William, this affair led 
to much domestic unhappmess, along with a desire to 
escape from it in the best way possible. Jean grew up 
an uncommonly beautiful girl, and being in some small 
degree an heiress, had a number of admirers, one of 
them being my father, to whom she was married ; and 
the young pair began housekeeping in the neat mansion 
already described. 

This marriage took place in May 1799. I was born 
in less than a year afterwards, and, as has been said, 
Robert was born in 1802. My furthest stretch of 
memory pictures my motiier as that gentle ladylike 


person already alluded to by Robert ; punctiliously 
tasteful in dress, and beautiful in features, but with an 
expression of blended pensiveness and cheerfulness, 
indicative of the position into which she had been 
brought. Even as a child I could see she had sorrows 
— perhaps regrets. It might have been safe to say that 
her union had been ' ill fated.' 

It is not, however, to be assumed from this circum- 
stance that my father was undeserving of regard. He 
possessed numerous estimable qualities, but in asso- 
ciation with these, a pliancy of disposition, which, 
according to the language of the world, renders a 
man ' his own worst enemy.' He was inconsiderate, 
easily misled, wanted fortitude, and was constantly 
exposed to imposition. Aspiring in his tastes and 
notions, with a fund of humour, and an immense love 
for music, he may be said to have taken a lead in 
the town for his general knowledge. He made 
some progress in scientific attainments. Aft'ected 
like others at the time with the fascinating works of 
James Ferguson on astronomy, he had a kind of 
rage for that branch of study, which he pursued by 
means of a tolerably good telescope, in company 
with Mungo Park, the African traveller, who had 
settled as a surgeon in Peebles, and one or two other 

He often lamented that his parents had not followed 
out a design of bestowing on him a liberal education. 
Supposing him to have been under some delusion in 
this respect, it could, I think, have been nothing but a 
sincere love of literature that induced him to acquire 
a copy of the Encydopicdia Britatniua, at a time when 
works of this expensive nature were purchased only by 



the learned and aflkient. The possession of this volu- 
minous mass of knowledge in no small degree helped 
to create a taste for reading in my own, and more par- 
ticularly my brother's mind ; at all events, a familiarity 
with the volumes of this great work is among the oldest 
of my recollections. Nor can I omit to mention other 
agreeable reminiscences of these early days. My father, 
as stated, was a tolerable, and certainly untiring performer 
on the German flute, an instrument which shared his 
affections with his telescope. Seated at the open window 
of his little parlour in calm summer gloamings, he would 
play an endless series of Scottish airs, which might be 
heard along the Eddleston Water ; then, as the clear 
silvery moon and planets arose to illumine the growing 
darkness, out would be brought his telescope, which 
being planted carefully on its stand on my mother's 
tea-table, there ensued a critical inspection of the firma- 
ment and its starry host. From circumstances of this 
kind, discussions about the satellites of Jupiter and the 
belts of Saturn are embedded in reminiscences of my 
early years. 

Once or twice a year my father had occasion to go 
to Glasgow in connection with business arrangements. 
The journey, upwards of forty miles, w^as performed on 
foot, in company with Jamie Hall, a stocking-manu- 
facturer, who was somewhat of an oddity. They were 
usually two days on the road. Hall made a ])oint of 
paying his way in pairs of stockings, of which he 
carried a choice stock on his back, calculated to settle 
all the reckonings till he arrived at the Spoutmouth in 
the Gallowgate. In one of these visits to Glasgow, my 
father, through his love of music, purchased a spinet, 
which, arriving on the top of the carrier's cart, created 


some perturbation in the household. It was a heedless 
acquisition, for there was no place to put it, except in 
the garret, among heaps of warps and bundles of weft. 
There, accordingly, where there was barely standing- 
room, the unfortunate spinet was deposited, and became 
an object of musical indulgence sometimes for hours, in 
which enjoyment all sublunary cares were forgot. 

His musical accomplishments rendered my father's 
society peculiarly attractive. He had a good voice, 
and sung the Scottish songs with considerable effect ; 
consequently, he was much in request at convivialities, 
to which, from a fondness for lively conversation, he 
had no particular objection. There, indeed, lay my 
father's weakness — too slight a regard for personal 
responsibilities. His indifference in this respect could 
not fail to throw additional obligations on my mother, 
whose destiny it was to confront and overcome in- 
numerable embarrassments. Acquainted with only the 
elementary branches of education, and unskilled in 
any fashionable accomplishments, she nevertheless 
possessed a strong understanding. I might truly say 
that, both in appearance and manners, she was by 
nature a lady, and circumstances made her a heroine. 
Delicate in frame, and with generally poor health, she 
was ill adapted for the fatigues and anxieties which she 
had to encounter ; but such was her tact and dexterity, 
as well as her determined resolution, that she bore and 
overcame trials which I feel assured would have sunk 
many in like circumstances to the ikplhs of despair. 
What she did may afterwards a[)i)ear. Meanwhile, a 
number of young children demanded her care. 

Robert and I had a strange congenital malformation. 
We were sent into the world with six fingers on each 


hand, and six toes on each foot. By the neighbours, as 
I understand, this was thougJit particularly lucky ; but 
it proved anything but lucky for one of us. In my own 
case, the redundant members were easily removed, 
leaving scarcely a trace of their presence; but in the 
case of Robert, the result was very different. The 
supernumerary toes on the outside of the foot were 
attached to, or formed part of, the metatarsal bones, 
and were so badly amputated as to leave delicate 
protuberances, calculated to be a torment for life. This 
unfortunate circumstance, by producing a certain degree 
of lameness and difficulty in walking, no doubt exerted 
a permanent influence over my brother's habits and 
feelings. Indisposed to indulge in the boisterous exercise 
of other boys — studious, docile in temperament, and 
excelling in mental qualifications — he shot ahead of me 
in all matters of education. Though dissimilar in various 
ways, we, however, associated together from our earliest 
years. It almost seemed as if a difference of tastes and 
aptitudes produced a degree of mutual reliance and 
co-operation. With a more practical and exigent tone 
of mind than Robert, I might possibly have made a 
decent progress at school, had my teachers at all sym- 
pathised with me. As it happened, I look back upon 
my school experiences with anything but satisfaction. 
A very few particulars will suffice. 

My first school was one kept by a poor old widow, 
Kirsty Cranston, who, according to her own account, 
was qualified to carry forward her pupils as far as 
reading the Bible ; but to this proficiency there was the 
reasonable exception of leaving out difficult words, 
such as Maher-shalal-hash-baz. These, she told the 
children, might be made ' a pass-over,' and accordingly 


it was the rule of the establishment to let them alone. 
From this humble seminary, I was in time transferred 
to the burgh school, then under the charge of Mr James 
Gray, author of a popular treatise on arithmetic. The 
fee, here, was two shillings and twopence per quarter 
for reading and writing, and sixpence additional for 
arithmetic. The pupils were the children of nearly all 
classes in the town and rural districts around. They 
numbered about a hundred and fifty boys and girls. 
Probably, a third of them in summer were barefooted, 
but this was less a necessity than a choice \ at anyrate, 
it well suited the locality. In front of the school-house 
lay the town green, and beside it was the Tweed, in 
which the school-boys were constantly paddling. 

Gray was a man of mild temperament, and a good 
teacher, but his pupils entertained little respect for his 
abilities. Yielding, like too many others at the time, 
to over-indulgence, he sometimes went off on a carouse, 
and entered the school considerably inebriated, which 
was deemed vastly amusing. Nor did this sort of con- 
duct incur any public censure. The magistrates and 
council, whose duty it was to call him to account, were 
associates in his revels, and appreciated him as a boon- 
companion. When elevated to a certain pitch, he sung 
a good song about Nelson and his brave British tars ; 
and this in itself, in the heat of the French war, 
extenuated many shortcomings. At this school too, as 
is usual with such seminaries in Scotland, the Bible was 
read as a class-book, but with no kind of reverence, or 
even decorum. The verses were bawled out at the 
pitch of the voice, without the slightest regard to 
intonation or elocutionary efiect. When the teacher 
was temporarily absent, there took place a battle of the 


books — one side of the school against the other. On 
such occasions, the girls, not choosing to be belligerents, 
discreetly retired under the tables, leaving the boys to 
carry on the war, in which dog-eared Bibles without 
boards, resembling bunches of leaves, handily flew about 
as missiles. To have to look back on this as a place of 
youthful instruction ! 

There was another stage in my educational career. 
I was advanced to the grammar-school, as it is called, 
a superior burgh establishment, of which Mr James 
Sloane was head-master. Here, I was introduced to 
Latin, for which the fee was five shillings a quarter. 
My progress was very indifferent. Of course it was 
very stupid of me not intuitively appreciating this 
branch of learning, and likewise in feeling that its 
acquisition was a cheerless drudgery. Like others 
perhaps in like circumstances, I have lived to regret 
my inattention, or call it, incapacity ; for even the 
small knowledge of Latin which I did acquire during 
two years of painful study, has not failed to be of 
considerable service in various respects. 

Mr Sloane was held in general esteem, and justly 
reputed as an excellent teacher. He grounded well, and 
apt scholars got on famously with him. My brother, 
who, like myself, was advanced from the burgh to the 
grammar school, became a proficient and favourite 
pupil ; his mind, as it were, taking naturally to instruc- 
tion in the classics. The healthy locality of the school 
was much in its favour, and attracted boarders from 
Edinburgh, the colonies, and elsewhere. The associa- 
tion of town scholars with boys from a distance was 
a pleasing feature in the establishment, and proved 
mutually advantageous. I could have nothing to say 


derogatory of the method of culture, but for the severity 
of discipline which was heedlessly pursued, according 
to what, unfortunately, was too common at the period. 

The truth is, violence held rule almost everywhere — 
the desperate warlike struggle in which the country was 
engaged, apparently postponing all pacific and humane 
notions. Boys — the boy-nature being neither studied 
nor understood — were flogged and buffeted unmerci- 
fully, both at home and at school ; and they in turn 
beat and domineered over each other according to their 
capacity, harried birds' nests, pelted cats, and exercised 
every other species of cruelty within their power. A 
coarse bustling carter in Peebles, known by the face- 
tious nickname of ' Puddle Michty,' used to leave 
his old worn-out and much-abused horses to die on 
the public green, and there, without incurring reproba- 
tion, the boys amused themselves by, day after day, 
battering the poor prostrate animals with showers 
of stones till life was extinct. In the business of 
elementary instruction, the law of kindness was as yet 
scarcely thought of Orders were sometimes given to 
teachers not by any means to spare the rod. ' I've 
brought you our Jock, mind ye lick him weel !' would a 
mother of Spartan temperament say to Mr Gray, at the 
same time dragging forward a struggling young savage 
to be entered as a pupil ; and so Jock was formally 
resigned to the dominion of the tawse. 

I can never forget a scene which took place in Mr 
Sloane's seminary one summer afternoon. In the 
morning of that day, a sensation had been created by 
the intelligence that two of the boarders, gentlemen's 
sons from Edinburgh, had absconded, and that two 
town-constables — one of them Drummer Will — had 


been despatched in search of them. The youths were 
caught, brought back in disgrace, and were now to 
suffer a punishment adequate to the gravity of the 
offence. Sullen and terrified, the two culprits stood 
before the assembled school; the two town-officers in 
their scarlet coats sitting as a guard within the door- 
way. The usual hum ceased. There was a deathlike 
stillness. First reproaching the offenders with their 
highly improper conduct, the teacher ordered them 
instantly to strip for flogging. The boys resisted, and 
were seized by an assistant and the two officers. With 
clothes in disorder, they were laid across a long desk- 
like table, the rise of which in the middle offered that 
degree of convexity which was favourable to the 
application of the tawse. Kicking and screaming, they 
suffered the humiliating infliction, and the school was 
forthwith dismissed for the day. Such things at the 
period were matters of course, even of approbation, and 
therefore it would be wrong to condemn teachers who 
fell in with the general fashion. Teaching, it was 
imagined, could not be conducted otherwise — school, 
like army, flogging was an authorised national in- 

Unless for the purpose of throwing light on past 
times, I should not think of further alluding to Mr 
Sloane's course of school discipline, which I have reason 
to believe did not greatly differ from what prevailed 
elsewhere. Force was in the ascendant, as it had been 
a hundred years previously in schools high and low 
everywhere. A character in one of the stories of Field- 
ing, coarsely but facetiously observes in allusion to his 
instruction in the classics, that he still bears the marks 
oi Homo on his person. I can quite believe it An 


old friend resident in London avows, that after a long 
period of years he still bears about his person marks 
of the castigations to which, for very trifling short- 
comings in his lessons, he was inhumanly subjected at 
Sloane's school at Peebles ; that he looks back on his 
educational career in his native town with horror. 

I would not for a moment aver that Mr Sloane acted 
on a principle of deliberate brutality. He fell in with 
the common usages of his craft, and at the time referred 
to, yielded too frequently to impulses of temper, which 
I have no doubt he lived to regret — perhaps to 
mourn over in the final dreams of retributive memory. 
Although the tawse formed the authorised weapon 
of punishment in his seminary, I have known Sloane 
in the heat of passion to use a ruler when it came 
readily to hand. On one occasion, for failing to answer 
a question in Latin grammar concerning a particular 
noun, I received a vengeful blow on the head with a 
ruler, which raised a lump that did not disappear for a 
fortnight. This was mere wantonness of tyranny over 
children who had no power of defence. The strange 
thing, as it now appears, is how such coarse chastise- 
ments should have been publicly tolerated. The expla- 
nation is easy. The complaints of those who suffered 
from the violence of teachers were not listened to by 
parents, whose notions of discipline generally lay in 
the same direction. As yet, the power of kindness and 
gentle suasion was scarcely understood. Appeals to 
the higher sentiments, along with encouraging explana- 
tions regarding the disciplinary and etymological value 
of Latin, did not seem to be thought of by teachers. 
No doubt, such personal assaults as I have seen at 
school would now be viewed very gravely at common- 



law. At the time I speak of, however, there was prac- 
tically neither recourse nor sympathy. On all hands 
magistrates connived at cruelties in schools. At Peebles, 
they lent the town officers to assist. Let no one speak 
to me of the 'good old times.' They were times 
marked by the most odious barbarity. Education was 
carried on in an atmosphere of tears. 

As Sloane's pupils were numerous and of different 
ages, the juniors fell to the charge of an assistant, hired 
for the purpose. The assistants were usually a poor 
set ; who seemingly, like the unhappy usher facetiously 
pictured by Goldsmith, were fain to put up with 
drudgeries for the sake of a meagre salary along with 
the comforts of board and lodging. For the most 
part they had some distressing bodily infirmity which 
excluded them from ordinary occupations. In my 
recollection, one of these dilapidated beings, named 
Howey, stands before me, wearing a second-hand 
black coat much too big for his figure. Howey excelled 
in the art of flogging, and was kept in no restraint. 
With a fierce glare, he eyed boys as if they had been 
made only to be thrashed. Roaming over the depart- 
ment under his charge, his right arm SA\'ung strangely 
backwards and forwards, apparently from some imper- 
fection in the shoulder-joint In his hand he carried 
very formidable tawse, the points of which were har- 
dened by burning to give them due efficacy, and 
inspire additional terror. So provided, his loose arm, 
in its pendulum-like motions, was ever ready to inflict a 
shower of blows on the head and shoulders of any 
unhappy urchin who incurred his displeasure. This 
wretch was discharged in consequence, I believe, of 
some impropriety. The boys over whom he had 


exerted his mean tyranny, rejoiced in his dismissal, 
and were disposed to pelt him on quitting the town, 
but he got away unobserved. 

Another assistant whom I recollect was of a different 
stamp. He was a young man named Robbie Eallan- 
tyncj from somewhere in Selkirkshire, and while a good 
scholar, was of a placid disposition. Robbie laboured 
under the infirmity of a short leg and a long one ; the 
short one being supplemented to the proper length by a 
wooden stump fastened by straps to the leg. My chief 
recollection of Robbie concerns a particular Sunday 
morning, when all the boys in the school were assembled 
in Mr Sloane's dining-room, to be put through their 
facings in the Shorter Catechism, preliminary to being 
marched in double file to the parish church. This was 
an old institution in the business of teaching. School- 
masters charged themselves with giving a certain degree 
of religious instruction to their pupils, which was gene- 
rally acceptable ; for as yet there was no great diversity 
of opinion on spiritual matters. As in other branches 
of culture, Sloane came up to the mark as a catechisL 

There was one pleasant peculiarity in the Sunday 
morning meeting. The tawse were laid aside, and there 
l)revailed that kind of subdued quietness which char- 
acterised all the proceedings of the day. The boys 
hardly spoke above their breath. In making his rounds, 
with a copy of the Catechism in his hand, Sloane dis- 
covered that I with another boy, Walter Turnbull, 
could not properly answer one of those subtle questions 
for which this venerable compendium of divinity has 
been renowned. Memory had for the moment failed. 
What was to be done ? The offence was unpardonable, 
but corporal punishment could not, in respect for the 


day, be inflicted. Our schoolmaster got over the diffi- 
culty. The t\vo culprits were condemned to remain 
imprisoned in the dining-room under charge of Robbie 
Ballantyne, while all the other boys went to church. 
We two accordingly remained in durance, occasionally 
thrumming at the Catechism, and at other times wist- 
fully looking out of window towards the Tweed and 
the Newby hills towering up beyond in the glowing 
light of a summer day — Robbie, our jailor, stumping 
about as sentinel on guard, and not disposed to take 
a severe view of our delinquency. On the return of 
the long train of boys from church, Turnbull and I were 
able to give a correct answer to the question that had 
puzzled us, and were graciously dismissed. I think 
Sloane was a little ashamed of the affair. He had acted 
under one of his ungovernable outbursts of temper. 
Keeping boys from church was certainly original in the 
way of penal discipline. 

Laying aside any consideration of the elementary 
branches and the classics, the amount of instruction 
at the schools at Peebles was exceedingly slender. At 
not one of them was there taught any history, geography, 
or physical science. There was not in my time a map 
in any of the schools — a fact not very creditable either 
to the teachers or the inhabitants. There was, how- 
ever, nothing singular in this deficiency. As yet, not- 
Avithstanding the number of burgh and parish schools, 
there was a general meagreness in the routine of educa- 
tion throughout the country. The people had not 
awakened to the advantages to be derived from a 
knowledge of the higher branches of instruction. Pos- 
sibly, I have said more than enough of my school 
remembrances ; and I finish with stating that my 


entire education, which terminated when I was thirteen 
years of age, cost, books included, somewhere about 
six pounds. So little was taught, that my education, 
properly speaking, began only when I was left to pick 
it up as opportunities offered in after-life. 

There are a few circumstances of a pleasing nature 
mixed up with these dismal recollections. I refer to 
rural rambles and books. I spent many hours on the 
picturesque banks of the Tweed at Neidpath, and in 
angling excursions to Manor Water. 

Though not disposed to be so sedentary as my 
brother, I had scarcely a less ardent attachment to 
books. These, however, I possessed no means of 
purchasing. To procure the objects of my desire, I 
executed with a knife various little toys, which I 
exchanged for juvenile books with my better provided 
companions. The room occupied by my brother and 
myself was more like a workshop than a sleeping apart- 
ment, on account of the disorder which was caused by 
these mechanical operations. 

In the notes left by my brother, he corroborates 
my reminiscences of the school discipline at Peebles, 
but as feeling much indebted to Mr Sloane's instructions, 
he refrains from specifying incidents such as came 
under my notice. Robert gives the following account 
of his early school-days. 

* My first two years of schooling were spent amidst 
the crowd of children attending Mr Gray's seminary. 
On the easy terms of two shillings and twopence per 
quarter, I was well grounded by the master and his 
helper in English. The entire expense must have been 
only about eighteen shillings — a fact sufficient to 


explain how Scotch people of the middle class appear 
to be so well educated in comparison with their 
southern compatriots. It was prior to the time when 
the intellectual system was introduced. We were taught 
to read the Bible and Barrie's Collection, and to spell 
words. No attempt was made to enlighten us as to the 
meaning of any of the lessons. It was a strange, rough, 
noisy, crowded scene this burgh school. No refine- 
ment of any kind appeared in it. Nothing kept the 
boys in any sort of order but flagellation with the 
tawse. Many people thought the master did not 
punish enough. This idea, in fact, was the cause of an 
act of wild justice, which I saw executed one day in the 

* The reader must imagine the school-hum going on 
in a dull monotone, when suddenly the door burst open, 
and in walked a middle-aged woman of the humbler 
class, carrying something in her right hand under her 
apron. The school sunk into silence in an instant. 
With flashing eyes and excited visage, she called out : 
"Where is Jock Forsyth?" Jock had maltreated a son 
of hers on the green, and she had come to inflict 
vengeance upon him before the whole school. Jock's 
conscious soul trembled at the sight, and she had 
no difficulty in detecting him. Ere the master had 
recovered from the astonishment which her intrusion 
had created, the fell virago had pounced upon the 
culprit, had dragged him into the middle of the floor, 
and there began to belabour him with the domestic 
tawse, which she had brought for the purpose. The 
screams of the boy, the anxious entreaties of the master, 
with his constant " Wifie, wifie, be quiet, be quiet," and 
the agitated feeling which began to pervade the school, 


formed a scene which defies words to paint it. Nor did 
Meg desist till she had given Master Forsyth reason to 
remember her to the latest day of his existence. She 
then took her departure, only remarking to Mr Gray, as 
she prepared to close the door : " Jock Forsyth will no' 
meddle with my Jamie again in a hurry." 

' Boys for whom a superior education was desired 
were usually passed on at the beginning of their third 
year to the grammar-school — the school in which 
the classics were taught, but which also had one or two 
advanced classes for English and writing. This was an 
example of an institution which has affected the fortunes 
of "Scotsmen not much less than the parish schools. 
Every burgh has one, partly supported out of public 
funds. For a small fee (in the Peebles grammar-school 
it was only five shillings a quarter), a youth of the 
middle classes gets a good grounding in Latin and 
Greek, fitting him for the university ; and it is mainly, 
I believe, through this superior education, so easily 
attained, that so many of the youth of our northern 
region are inspired with the ambition which leads them 
upwards to professional life in their own country, or 
else sends them abroad in quest of the fortune hard to 
find at home. I observe, while writing these pages, the 
advertisement of an academy in England, where, besides 
sixty pounds by way of board, the fees for tuition 
amount to twenty-five. For this twenty-five pounds, a 
Scottish burgher of my young days could have five sons 
carried through a complete classical course. The differ- 
ence is overwhelmingly in favour of the Scotch grammar- 
school, as far as the money matter is concerned. And 
thus it will appear that the good education which has 
enabled me to address so much literature, of whatever 



value, to the public during the last forty-five years, never 
cost my parents so much as ten pounds. 

' There was a bookseller in Peebles : a great fact 
There had not always been one \ but some years before 
my entrance upon existence, a decent man named 
Alexander Elder had come to the town and established 
himself as a dealer in intellectual wares. He was a 
very careful and sober man, and in the end, as was 
fitting, became rich in comparison with many of 
his neighbours. It seems a curious reminiscence of my 
first bookseller's shop, that, on entering it, one always 
got a peep of a cow, which quietly chewed her cud 
close behind the book-shelves, such being one of Sandy's 
means of providing for his family. Sandy was great in 
Shorter Catechisms, and what he called spells, and 
school Bibles and Testaments, and in James Lumsden's 
(of Glasgow) halfpenny coloured pictures of the " World 
Turned Upside Down," the " Battle of Trafalgar," &c., 
and in penny chap-books of an extraordinary coarseness 
of language. He had stores, too, of school slates and 
skeely, of paper for copies, and of pens, or rather quills, 
for " made " pens were never sold then — one of which 
he would hand us across his counter with a civil glance 
over the top of his spectacles, as if saying : " Now, 
laddie, see and mak' a guid use o't." But Sandy was 
enterprising and enlightened beyond the common range 
of booksellers in small country towns, and had added a 
circulating library to his ordinary business. My father, 
led by his strong intellectual tastes, had early become a 
supporter of this institution, and thus it came about 
that by the time we were nine or ten years of age, my 
brother and I had read a considerable number of the 
classics of English literature, or heard our father read 


them; were familiar with the comicalities of Gulliver, 
Don Quixote, and Peregrine Pickle; had dipped into 
the poetry of Pope and Goldsmith, and indulged our 
romantic tendencies in books of travel and adventure, 
which were to us scarcely less attractive than the works 
of pure imagination. When lately attending the Wells 
of Homburg, I had but one English book to amuse 
me, Pope's translation of the Iliad, and I felt it as 
towards myself an affecting reminiscence, that exactly 
fifty years had elapsed since I perused the copy from 
Elder's library, in a little room looking out upon the 
High Street of Peebles, where an English regiment 
was parading recruits raised for Wellington's Peninsular 

* There was certainly something considerably superior 
to the common book-trader in my friend Alexander 
Elder, for his catalogue included several books striking 
far above the common taste, and somewhat costly 
withal. There was, for example, a copy of a strange 
and curious book of which Sir Walter Scott speaks on 
several occasions with great interest, a metrical history 
of the clan Scott, written about the time of the Revolu- 
tion by one Walter Scott, a retired old soldier of the 
Scottish legions of Gustavus Adolphus, who describes 
himself unnecessarily as " no scholar," for in its rhyme, 
metre, and entire frame of language it is truly wretched, 
while yet interesting on account of the quaintness of its 
ideas and the information it conveys. Another of 
Sandy's book treasures — and the money value of them 
makes the term appropriate — was the ^neidos of Vm^l, 
translated into Scottish verse by Gavin Douglas, bishop 
of Dunkeld, well known as a most interesting product 
of the literary mind of Scotland at the beginning of the 


sixteenth century, and gratifying to our national vanity 
as prior to any translations of Virgil into English. 

* In a fit of extraordinary enterprise, Sandy had taken 
into his library the successive volumes of the fourth 
edition of the Encydopczdia Britannica, and had found 
nobody but my father in the slightest degree interested 
in them. My father made a stretch with his moderate 
means, and took the book off Sandy's hands. It was a 
cumbrous article in a small house ; so, after the first 
interest in its contents had subsided, it had been put 
into a chest (which it filled), and laid up in an attic 
beside the cotton wefts and the meal ark. Roaming 
about there one day, in that morning of intellectual 
curiosity, I lighted upon the stored book, and from that 
time for weeks all my spare time was spent beside the 
chest. It was a new world to me. I felt a profound 
thankfulness that such a convenient collection of human 
knowledge existed, and that here it was spread out like 
a well-plenished table before me. What the gift of a 
whole toy-shop would have been to most children, this 
book was to me. I plunged into it. I roamed through 
it like a bee. I hardly could be patient enough to read 
any one article, while so many others remained to be 
looked into. In that on Astronomy, the constitution of 
the material universe was all at once revealed to me. 
Henceforth I knew — what no other boy in the town 
then dreamed of — that there were infinite numbers of 
worlds besides our own, which was by comparison a 
very insignificant one. From the zoological articles, I 
gathered that the animals, familiar and otherwise, were 
all classified into a system through which some faint 
traces of a plan were discernible. Geography, of which 
not the slightest elements were then imparted at school, 


here came before me in numberless articles and maps, 
expanding my narrow village world to one embracing 
the uttermost ends of the earth. I pitied my com- 
panions who remained ignorant of what became to me 
familiar knowledge. Some articles were splendidly 
attractive to the imagination — for example, that entitled 
Aerostation, which illustrated all that had been done in 
the way of aerial travelling from Montgolfier down- 
wards. Another paper interested me much — that 
descriptive of the inquiries of Dr Saussure regarding 
the constitution and movement of glaciers. The 
biographical articles, introducing to me the great men 
who had laid up these stores of knowledge, or other^vise 
affected the destinies of their species, were devoured in 
rapid succession. What a year that was to me, not 
merely in intellectual enjoyment, but in mental forma- 
tion ! I believe it was my eleventh, for before I was 
twelve, misfortune had taken the book from us to help 
in satisfying creditors. It appears to me somewhat 
strange that, in a place so remote, so primitive, and 
containing so little wealth, at a time when the move- 
ment for the spread of knowledge had not yet been 
thought of, such an opportunity for the gratification 
of an inquiring young mind should have been pre- 
sented. It was all primarily owing to the liberal spirit 
of enterprise which animated this cow-keeping country 

'The themes first presented to the young mind cer- 
tainly sink into it the deepest. The sciences of which 
I obtained the first tracings through tlie Encyclopccdia, 
have all through life been endeared to me above the 
rest. The books of imagination which I first read from 
Elder's library have ever borne a preference in my 


heart, whatever may be the judgment of modem taste 
regarding them. It pains me to this day to hear severe 
remarks made upon Fielding and Sterne. I should feel 
myself to be a base ingrate if I could join in condemning 
men who first gave me views of social life beyond my 
natal village sphere, and who, by their powers of enter- 
tainment, lent such a charm to years during which 
material enjoyments were few. These intellectual "loves 
of life's young day " sometimes lead literary men in the 
choice of themes for their own pens. It was from such 
a feeling regarding Smollett, that I was induced to make 
an effort to set his life in a more respectful light before 
the world than it had previously enjoyed, while, assuredly, 
invited to other tasks in several respects more promising. 
It strikes me that gratitude to an author — also to a 
teacher — to any one who has benefited us intellectually 
— is as desirable a form of the feeling as any. I raise 
statues in my heart to the fictionists above named, and 
to many others who nowhere have statues of bronze or 
marble, and I likewise deem it not unfitting that there 
should be flower-crowned miniatures in my bosom of 
James Sloane and Sandy Elder.' 

I can unite in these commendations. With Elder's 
field of literature laid open to us, Robert and I read at 
a great rate, going right through the catalogue of books 
without much regard to methodised study. In fact, we 
had to take what we could get and be thankful. Per- 
mitted to have only one volume at a time, we made up 
for short allowance by reading as quickly as possible, 
and, to save time, often read together from the same 
book; one having the privilege of turning over the 
leaves. Desultory as was this course of reading, it 


undoubtedly widened the sphere of our ideas ; and it 
would be ungrateful not to acknowledge that some of 
my own success, and not a few of the higher pleasures 
experienced in life, are due to Elder's library in the 
little old burgh. 

My brother and I had another source of self-education 
when we were boys, on which it is agreeable to reflect. 
The schools we attended, as has been said, were devoid 
of maps, and no instruction whatsoever was given on 
physical geography. Nor did the parents of the pupils 
seem to make any complaint on the subject. By a 
fortunate circumstance Robert and I were able to make 
up for the deficiency. When I was about ten years of 
age, Mr Oman, an old and retired keeper of a boarding- 
school, died. He had, in his day, been a good teacher, 
with enlarged scientific views, and left no successor of a 
like quality in the town. At his decease, his effects were 
sold off by auction. Among other articles offered to 
public competition were a pair of school-globes, twelve 
inches in diameter, which my father was lucky in 
securing for the modest sum of five shillings. 

I can remember the delight with which the globes 
were received in the family circle, and exhibited on a 
table for general admiration. Old and dingy in the 
colours, they had not the polished sprightly look of 
modem globes, but when cleaned and brushed up, no 
fault was found with them. We did not even care 
much about a severe injury that had been sustained 
by the terrestrial globe, consisting of a hole the size 
of a crown-piece in the middle of the Antarctic Ocean. 
There were, like\vise, shortcomings on the score of 
recent discoveries. Of Australia, tliere were only a few 
fragmentary outlines, with large intervening spaces, 


marked 'unknown country.' It was satisfactory, how- 
ever, to see the track of Columbus in his discovery 
of America, and the routes respectively pursued by 
Anson and Cook in their memorable circumnaviga- 

Robert and I flew with avidity on these poor old 
globes. By poring over them, we learned how to find 
out the latitude of places, to comprehend the signs of 
the zodiac and their relative positions, and to attain a 
correct idea of the ecliptic or great circle in the heavens, 
round which the sun seems to travel in the course of a 
year. From the celestial sphere, that had been less 
injured, we gained a knowledge of the constellations 
and situation of the principal fixed stars, of which, along 
with the planetary bodies, we had already received some 
information from my father in his observations with the 
telescope. Mostly engaged at school during the day, 
we occupied ourselves in a study of the two globes early 
in the morning, or in the evening when candles were 
lighted in the parlour. My mother was glad to see us 
interested in these recreations, instead of rambling idly 
about the street at night, and suggested that we should 
begin to fix the leading facts in geography and astron- 
omy in our minds, by means of notes. The advice was 
taken. Having no money wherewith to buy paper, I 
was permitted to make a note-book from a number 
of blank leaves torn from an old ledger. To give the 
little book a decent exterior, I covered it with strips of 
marble paper pasted together, that Elder had pared off in 
his binding operations, and which he kindly allowed me 
to carry home. The note-book so formed was somewhat 
miscellaneous in contents, for we wrote doAvn all sorts 
of useful facts that came in our way — an exercise in 


composition, if nothing else, and which could scarcely 
fail to be beneficial in connection with the subsequent 
duties of Hfe. 

Passing from these reminiscences of boyish days, 
something may now be said of the circumstances which, 
in a strangely unexpected manner, sent my brother and 
myself adrift into the world that lay beyond our hitherto 
limited horizon. 

The calm tenor of my father's affairs was at length 
abruptly ruffled. The introduction of the power-loom 
and other mechanical appliances had already begun to 
revolutionise the cotton trade. Down and down sank 
hand-loom weaving, till it was threatened with extinction, 
and ultimately the trade was followed only as a desperate 
necessity. Happy were those who gave it up in time, 
and betook themselves to something else. Moved by 
the declining aspect of his commission business, my 
father bethought himself of commencing as a draper. 
For this purpose, he alienated the small property in 
which my brother and I were bom, and removed to 
a central part of the town. Here he began his new 
line of business, for which, excepting his obliging 
manners, he had no particular qualification. As, how- 
ever, there was then little of that eager striving which 
is now conspicuous everywhere, matters would per- 
haps have gone on pretty well, but for one untoward 
circumstance, shortly to be mentioned. 

At this period — 180S to 18 12 — the country at large 
was in the heat of the French war. My reminiscences 
bring up the picture of universal soldiering, marching 
to and fro of regiments, drums beating, colours flying, 
news of victories, and general illuminations. There 
was an active demand for recruits for the regular army, 


and hardly less eagerness in procuring men to fill up 
the militia regiments. Of various regiments of this 
class stationed at Peebles I have some interesting 
recollections. The officers gave an intellectual fillip to 
the place. Some of them were good artists. Others 
brought with them books of a superior class, about 
which they conversed in the houses they visited. They 
received London newspapers, which were prized for 
their original and copious news of the war, also for 
comments on public affairs not to be found in the 
timid provincial press of that day. The militia officers 
were still more popular in making the natives acquainted 
with Enghsh outdoor sports, until then unknown. I 
first saw cricket played by officers of the Cambridge- 
shire militia on the green margin of the Tweed- 
Melodies, which few had heard of, were introduced 
at private evening parties. Some of these I listened 
to with ravished ears — one in particular, the charming 
air, Cease your Funning, which was exquisitely played 
on the octave flute by Carnaby, a young and accom- 
plished officer in the Ross-shire militia. In wakeful 
nights, even at this long-distant time, I think of Carnaby 
and his flute. 

The militia, as is well known, consisted of men 
drawn by ballot — a kind of modified conscription; for 
substitutes were accepted. By paying a small sum 
annually to an insurance club, a substitute was provided 
from the general fund. In the fiercest period of the 
war, the pressure for substitutes grew intense. The 
bounty to be dispensed for one was occasionally as 
large, if not larger than the bounty paid by government 
for enlisting into the army. On a particular occasion, 
I knew of fifty pounds being given for a substitute. 


There were some interesting circumstances which 
impressed it on my recollection. 

A substitute was in urgent demand. Advertisements 
were issued. Nobody would go. Thirty pounds were 
offered. Forty pounds were offered. At length the 
offer rose to fifty. A poor man of middle age pre- 
sented himself. Sandy Noble, for .such was the name 
of this true-hearted person, was by trade a cotton- 
weaver. He was a widower, with a grown-up family, 
but they had left him to pursue their own course in 
life ; so he was in a sense alone in the world. The 
wages realised by his peculiar species of labour had 
materially declined, and he was now only able to make 
both ends meet. Not even that. He had become 
responsible for a number of petty debts, caused by the 
long and expensive illness of his lately deceased wife. 
These debts hung round his neck like a millstone. 
The thought of never being able to liquidate them 
was acutely distressing. 

One day, as he sat on his loom, meditating on the 
state of his affairs, a neighbour came in to announce 
the intelligence that fifty pounds had just been offered 
for a substitute. Making no remark on this piece of 
news, Sandy, when alone, took a slate, and calculated 
that fifty pounds would clear him. His mind was 
instantly made up. For two days and a night he 
worked with desperation to finish the web he was 
engaged upon. Having executed his task, and settled 
with my father, his employer, he walked off to the 
secretary of the insurance club, and coming in the nick 
of time, was thankfully accepted as the required substi- 
tute. The militia authorities were in a fume at the 
delay, and a sergeant had been despatched to bring 


the man who had been balloted for, otherwise he 
would be treated as a deserter. As the recognised 
substitute, Sandy, in a few quiet words, pacified the 
sergeant. * Just gie me half an hour,' said he, ' and 
I '11 be ready to gang wi' ye.* The half-hour was given, 
and devoted to a noble act of integrity, such as, we 
fear, is rarely presented in matters of this nature. With 
the fifty pounds in his pocket, Sandy went from one 
end of the town to the other, paying debt after debt 
as he went along — fifteen and sixpence to one, three 
pounds eleven and threepence to another, and so on, 
not leaving a single shilling undischarged. When all 
was over, he mounted a small bundle on the end of 
a stick, and, in a calm, self-satisfied mood, he trudged 
away with the sergeant to headquarters. The name 
of Sandy Noble deserves to go do^vn in the roll of 
honour with many of greater distinction. 

The war, as we see, with its innumerable horrors, 
was not all bad. It evoked endurance, courage, man- 
liness, a disposition to make a sacrifice of even life 
itself for the public good. To take the obscure inci- 
dent just recorded, there was a grandeur in the honesty 
and disinterestedness of Sandy Noble, that gives dignity 
to human nature. The very knowledge that there was 
such a true-hearted being in humble life is gratifying, 
though, no doubt, many similar cases could be men- 

As an out-of-the-way country town, Peebles had been 
selected by government as a place suitable for the 
residence of prisoners of war on parole, shortly after 
the recommencement of hostilities in 1803. Not more, 
however, than twenty or thirty of these exiles arrived 
at this early period. They were mostly Dutch and 


Walloons, with afterwards a few Danes — unfortunate 
mariners seized on the coast of the Netherlands, and 
sent to spend their lives in an inland Scottish town. 
These men did not repine. They nearly all betook 
themselves to learn some handicraft, to eke out their 
scanty allowance. At leisure hours, they might be seen 
fishing in long leather boots, as if glad to procure a few 
trouts and eels, and at the same time satisfy the desire 
to dabble in the water. Two or three years later came 
a detenu of a different class. He was seemingly the 
captain of a ship from the French West Indies, who 
brought with him his wife and a negro servant-boy 
named Jack. Black Jack, as we called him, was sent 
to the school, where he played with the other boys on 
the town green, and at length read and spoke like a 
native. He was a good-natured creature, and became a 
general favourite. Jack was the first pure negro whom 
the boys at that time had ever seen. 

None of these classes of prisoners broke his parole, 
nor ever gave any trouble to the authorities. They had 
not, indeed, any appearance of being prisoners, for they 
were practically free to live and ramble about, within 
reasonable bounds, where they liked. In 18 10, there 
was a large accession to this original body of prisoners 
on parole, to whom I must specially refer. 

Memory carries me back to a particular Sunday evening. 
Having gone through the day in a perfectly constitu- 
tional manner, the inhabitants of the town felt that, 
towards evening, they might, in a mild and quiet way, 
indulge in a little recreation — not amusement by any 
means, only a smell of the fresh air. All depended on 
slowness and quietness. Anything like laughing, whistling, 
singing, walking hurriedly, or boisterous behaviour, was 


proscribed. You might do almost what you liked, pro- 
vided it was done slowly and quietly, as if you were 
not doing it. The impropriety consisted in making a 

On Sunday evenings, from the proceedings of the 
day, everything was agreeably calmed down to an 
unchallengeable quietude. People who had gardens 
walked out quietly — if by back-doors so much the 
better — and with their hands in their pockets made 
their observations quietly on the growth of the cab- 
bages and gooseberries. Others took a sauntering 
sort of walk quietly to the river, and in a manner 
not to provoke discussion, spoke of the prospects 
of fishing for the season ; perhaps introducing a some- 
what playful anecdote about catching a salmon, but 
always in a subdued tone of voice, and never venturing 
beyond a smile. Some took a fancy for going a little 
more afield, and leaning over gateways, made remarks 
quietly on the crops, and threw out speculations as to 
the probable price of meal and potatoes after next 
harvest. A number, otherwise bent, took a fancy for 
visiting the churchyard, where an hour was quietly and 
pleasantly spent in making observations on 'the poor 
inhabitant below,' in the respective newly made graves. 
To all this there may be fault-finders. As long as 
human nature is what it is, I can imagine nothing more 
decorous or reverential than these modest and leisurely 
Sunday evening musings. 

My father had no garden to speak of. His tastes did 
not lie in that direction. At all odd hours he fastened 
on books, reviews, and newspapers. The only news- 
paper of which I have any familiar remembrance at this 
early period, was The Edinburgh Star. It was a twice- 


a-week journal, and, as things went, had a good circula- 
tion. My father could not aftbrd to subscribe for The 
Star. All he could do was to be a member of a club 
to take in the paper, which was handed about to one 
after the otlier, each member being allowed to have 
it in turn for a certain number of hours. Such, in the 
days of taxed and dear newspapers, was an almost 
universal practice, and in our community it was no way 

By some chance, which I am unable to explain, 
my father's tenure of the Friday's Star began on 
Sunday evening, at six o'clock, when the natives gener- 
ally were out on their quietly sauntering perambula- 
tions. For three days he had heard nothing satisfac- 
tory of the war, and in his anxiety had watched the 
face of the alabaster timepiece on the wall of our little 
parlour, to see when the paper could with propriety 
be sent for. The hands on the dial having at length 
pointed to a quarter to six, I am requested to go for 
The Star. At the time, I am seated at a window 
trying to commit to memory that Scripture paraphrase 
of matchless beauty, which my mother prescribed to me 
as a study : 

' Few arc thy days, and full of woe, 
O man, of woman born.' 

Laying the book aside, I obey the command to go 
for The Star, and, on the whole, being glad to get into 
tlie open air, I hurry off with a leather cap on my 
head, and a crisply plaited frill down my back, in quest 
of the paper. I knew all about the mission, for it was 
not the first time I had been so employed. 

The person to whom I was sent was a respectable 


candlemaker — his surname of no consequence. He 
was a short, stoutish man, who filled the office of 
Dean of Guild, which contributed to give him a certain 
dignified position in the town. Ordinarily, however, he 
was best known as ' Candle Andrew.' As a bachelor, 
though advanced in life, Andrew lived with his sister, 
who acted as housekeeper and shopwoman, and was 
usually, as already mentioned, called ' Candle Nell.* 
It was altogether a successful arrangement. The brother 
and sister made no sort of show. The business was 
conducted cheaply and quietly. 

On the present occasion, being Sunday, the shop 
was shut, and entrance to the premises was by a side- 
door, the first on the right-hand in going down the 
close as you went to the candle-work. To that door 
I proceeded. It was opened by Nell, and I was 
ushered into the kitchen until she announced the object 
of my visit. All was quiet and decorous. I was invited 
to step into the room. Here sat Candle Andrew in 
his Sunday's best, with an under red-silk waistcoat, and 
his bald head lightly powdered. Before him, lay a 
large open folio volume of Matthew Henry's Bible, 
covering nearly the whole table. Above it, and just 
about the same size, lay The Star. Candle Andrew, 
whom I esteemed to be a great man, as Dean of Guild, 
with his powdered head and red under-waistcoat, was 
so kind as speak to me, and what he said (while folding 
up the newspaper) was momentous. ' Great news, Willie, 
my man — terrible battles in Spain — thousands o' French 
prisoners — a number o' them brought to Leith, and I 
shouldn't wonder if some were sent here. However, 
there's The Star ; and please to give my compliments 
to your mother.' Little did I think that what Candle 


Andrew had hinted at, was destined to shape the whole 
existence of my brother and myself, indeed the whole 
family, father and motlier included. 

Inspired by the notion that there was something 
important in the intelligence, I hastened home, but 
before I arrived, my father had received a glimmering 
of the news. A neighbour had called to say that there 
was to be immediately a great accession to the present 
French prisoners of war on parole. As many as a 
hundred and eleven were already on their way to the 
town, and might be expected in perhaps a day or two. 

There was speedily a vast sensation in the place. The 
local militia had been disbanded. Lodgings of all sorts 
were vacant The new arrivals would on all hands be 
heartily welcomed. On Tuesday, the expected French 
prisoners in an unceremonious way began to drop in. 
As one of several boys, I went out to meet these new 
prisoners of war on the road from Edinburgh. They 
came walking in twos and threes — a itw of them lame. 
Their appearance was startling, for they were in military 
garb, in which they had been captured in Spain. Some 
were in light blue hussar dresses, braided, with marks 
of sabre-wounds. Others were in dark-blue uniform. 
Several wore large cocked-hats, but the greater number 
had undress caps. All had a gentlemanly air, notwith- 
standing their generally dishevelled attire, their soiled 
boots, and their visible marks of fatigue. 13cfore night, 
they had all arrived ; and through the activity of the 
agent appointed by the Transport Board, they had been 
provided with lodgings suitable to their slender allowance. 

This large batch of prisoners on parole were, of 
course, all in the rank of naval or military officers. 
Some had been pretty high in the service, and seen a 


good deal of fighting. Several were doctors, or, as they 
called themselves, officiers de saute. Among the whole 
there were, I tliink, about a dozen midshipmen. A strange 
thing was their varied nationality. Though spoken of 
as French, there was in the party a mixture of Italians, 
Swiss, and Poles ; but this we found out only after some 
intercourse. Whatever their origin, they were warm 
adherents of Napoleon, whose glory at this time was at 
its height. Lively in manner, their minds were full of 
the recent struggles in the Peninsula. 

Through the considerateness of an enterprising grocer, 
the prisoners were provided with a billiard-table, at which 
they spent much of their time. So far well. But how did 
these unfortunate exiles contrive to live — how did they 
manage to feed and clothe themselves, and pay for 
lodgings ? Thereby hangs a tale, which we will by-and- 
by come to. The allowance from government was on a 
moderate scale. I doubt if it was more than a shilling a 
head per diem. In various instances two persons lived 
in a single room, but even that cost at least half-a-crown 
a week, which made a considerable inroad on revenue. 
The truth is, they must have been half-starved, but for 
the fortunate circumstance of a number of them having 
brought money — foreign gold pieces — concealed about 
their person, which stores were supplemented by remit- 
tances from France ; and in a friendly way, at least as 
regards the daily mess, or table d'Mte, the richer helped 
the poorer, which was a good trait in their character. 
The messing together was the grand resource, and took 
place in a house hired for the purpose, in which the 
cookery was conducted under the auspices of M. 
Lavoche, one of the prisoners, who, as is not unusual 
with Frenchmen, was skilled in cuisine. My brother 


and I had some dealings with Lavoche. We cultivated 
rabbits in a hutch built by ourselves in a back-yard, and 
sold them for the Frenchmen's mess ; the money got for 
them, usually eightpence a pair, being employed in the 
purchase of books. 

Billiards were indispensable, but something more was 
wanted. Without a theatre, life was felt to be unendur- 
able. But how was a theatre to be secured? There 
was nothing of the kind in the place. The more eager 
of the prisoners managed to get out of the difficulty. 
There was an old and disused ballroom. It was rather 
of confined dimensions, and low in the roof, with a 
gallery at one end, over the entrance, for the musi- 
cians. In the days of yore, however, what scenes of 
gaiety had it not witnessed 1 Walter Scott's mother, 
when a girl, I was told, had crossed Minchmoor, a 
dangerously high hill, in a chaise from the adjacent 
county, to dance for a night in that little old ballroom. 
Now set aside as unfashionable, the room was at 
anybody's service, and came quite handily to the 
Frenchmen. They fitted it with a stage at the inner 
end, and cross-benches to accommodate a hundred 
and twenty persons, independently of perhaps twenty 
more in the musicians' gallery. The thing was neatly 
got up, with scenery painted by M. Walther and M. 
Ragulski, the latter a young Pole with artistic tastes. 
No licence was required for the theatre, for it was 
altogether a private undertaking. Money was not 
taken at the door, and no tickets were sold. Admis- 
sion was gained by complimentary billets, distributed 
chietly among persons with whom the actors had estab- 
lished an intimacy. 

Among these favoured individuals was my father, who, 


carrying on a mercantile concern, occupied a prominent 
position. lie felt a degree of compassion for these 
foreigners, constrained to live in exile, and besides 
welcoming them to his house, gave them credit in 
articles of drapery of which they stood in need; and 
through which circumstance they soon assumed an 
improved appearance in costume. Introduced to the 
family circle, their society was agreeable and in a 
sense instructive. Though with imperfect speech, a 
sort of half-French, half-English, they related inter- 
esting circumstances in their career. Robert and I, 
desperately keen to learn, but with poor opportunities 
of doing so, listened with greedy ears to the discourse 
of the Frenchmen, which had the double advantage 
of increasing our stock of facts and improving us in 
the knowledge of the French tongue. 

How performances in French should have had any 
general attraction may seem to require explanation. 
There had grown up in the town, among young 
persons especially, a knowledge of familiar French 
phrases ; so that what was said, accompanied with 
appropriate gestures, was pretty well guessed at. But, 
as greatly contributing to remove difficulties, a worthy 
man of an obliging turn, and genial humour, volun- 
teered to act as interpreter. Moving in humble cir- 
cumstances as a hand-loom weaver, he had let lodg- 
ings to the French captain and his wdfe, and from being 
for years in domestic intercourse with them, he became 
well acquainted with their language. William Hunter — 
for such was his name — besides being of ready wit, 
partook of a lively musical genius. I have heard him 
sing Malbrouk s'en va-t-en guerre, with amazing correct- 
ness and vivacity. His services at the theatre were 


therefore of value to the natives in attendance. Seated 
conspicuously at the centre of what we may call the 
pit, eyes were turned to him inquiringly when any- 
thing particularly funny was said that needed explana- 
tion, and for general use, he whisperingly communi- 
cated the requisite interpretation. So put up to the joke, 
the natives heartily joined in the laugh, though rather 
tardily. Dear old William Hunter, with his ready demon- 
strations of Scottish humour, how my brother and I in 
later years regretted his loss ! As for the French plays, 
which were performed with perfect propriety, they were 
to us not only amusing but educational. Life, to be 
worth anything, is made up of happy recollections. The 
remembrance of these dramatic efforts of the French 
prisoners of war has been through life a continual treat. 
It is curious for me to look back on the performance of 
pieces of Moli^re, in circumstances so very remarkable. 
My mother, even while lending her dresses and caps to 
enable performers to represent female characters, never 
liked the extraordinary intimacy which had been formed 
between the French officers and my father. Against his 
giving them credit, she constantly remonstrated in vain. 
It was a tempting but perilous trade. For a time, by 
the resources just mentioned, they paid wonderfully well. 
With such solid inducements, my father confidingly gave 
extensive credit to these strangers — men who, by their 
position, were not amenable to the civil law, and whose 
obligations, accordingly, were altogether debts of honour. 
The consequence was what might have been anticipated. 
An order suddenly arrived from the government, com- 
manding the whole of the prisoners to quit Peebles, and 
march chiefly to Sanquhar in Dumfriesshire ; the cause 
of the movement being the prospective arrival of a 


militia regiment. The intelligence came one Sunday 
afternoon. What a gloom prevailed at several firesides 
that fatal evening ! 

On their departure, the French prisoners made many 
fervid promises that, should they ever return to their 
own country, they would have pleasure in discharging 
their debts. They all got home at the peace in 1814, 
but not one of them ever paid a farthing. A list of 
their names, debts, and official position in the army of 
Napoleon, remains as a curiosity in my possession. 
It is not unlikely that a number of these returned 
exiles found a grave on the field of Waterloo. 
Whatever became of them, there was soon a crisis 
in my father's affairs. The pressure might have been 
got over, for with patience there were means to 
satisfy all demands ; but the possibility of rectifying 
affairs was defeated by weakly taking the advice of an 
interested party, a relative of my mother, who recom- 
mended a sequestration. The result was that the sage 
adviser, as trustee, managed everything so adroitly for 
his own benefit, that the creditors received but a small 
dividend, and the family lost almost everything. It is 
hateful to refer to this piece of folly and villainy, because 
it reminds me of poignant distresses ; but it is necessary 
to give it some degree of prominence, for it forms the 
pivot on which the present narrative turns. 

By various shifts, the family continued to struggle on 
for a year or two in Peebles after this catastrophe. The 
penury which was endured was less painful than the 
acute sense of social degradation. My mother looked 
for some sympathy and assistance from her brother, and 
also from other relatives at a distance, but without avail. 
Feeling, with a too keen susceptibility, that he had lost 


caste, my father never quite held up his head after this 
event ; yet, deplored at the time, it really proved a for- 
tunate circumstance. Like a wholesome though un- 
pleasant storm in a stagnating atmosphere, it cleared 
the way for a new and better order of things. A 
seemingly great misfortune ultimately proved to be no 
misfortune at all ; it was, in fact, a blessing, for which 
my brother and I, as well as other members of the 
family, could not be sufficiently thankful. 

The wise resolution was adopted of quitting Peebles. 
My mother, animated by keen anxiety and foresight, 
was particularly solicitous to remove, with a view to 
procure means of advancement for her sons. Accord- 
ingly, impelled alike by necessity and inclination, the 
family removed to Edinburgh ; Robert being alone left 
to pursue his education for a short time longer. Crowded 
into the Fly, then the only engine of public conveyance 
to the Scottish capital, we crossed the Kingside-Edge, 
as a high ridge of land is called, on a bleak day in 
December 1813 — my mother with an infant daughter on 
her knee, and a heart full of mingled hopes and fears of 
the future. It was a five hours' journey, of which one 
entire hour was spent at Venturefair to rest the horses. 
Here the party were hospitably entertained with warm 
kail by Jenny Wilson, who kept the small inn along 
with her brother William. So rcinvigorated, we drove 
on in somewhat better spirits, entering Edinburgh by 
the Causewayside — my mother with but a few shillings 
in her pocket; there was not a halfpenny in mine. 



"CpAMILIES falling by misfortune into straitened 
•*- circumstances, of course lose many old friends 
and acquaintances, at least as far as familiar personal 
intercourse is concerned. This loss, though often the 
subject of sorrowful and angry remark, is not an unmiti- 
gated evil. Sympathy is doubtless due throughout all 
perplexing social distinctions; gracious are the acts of 
a true friend ; kindness to the unfortunate will ever 
command approbation ; but let us not forget that it is 
better for personal intimacies to suffer some modification, 
than for the impoverished to lose self-respect and 
become dependent on a system of habitual condescen- 
sion. It seems hard to take this view of the matter, 
but I fear that on no other basis can the indigent 
aspire to be the associates of the affluent. Could 
matters be seen rightly, they would appear to be as well 
ordered in this as in other things which concern our 

Happily, the defection, real or apparent, of old friends 
is not uncompensated. Sinking into a lower sphere, a 
new and hitherto undiscovered region is disclosed. A 
higher class, as we are apt to feel, has cruelly turned 


its back on us ; but we are received with open arms by 
a very good and agreeable sort of people, in whose 
moderate incomes, and, it may be, misfortunes and 
struggles, we feel the pleasures of fellowship. The 
Vicar of Wakefield, it will be recollected, did not find 
the jail such a bad thing after all. 

My parents, on settling in Edinburgh, may be pre- 
sumed to have found consolations of this nature. 
According to immemorial usage, families with limited 
means from the southern counties of Scotland, who seek 
a home in the capital, sagaciously pitch on one of the 
second-rate streets in the southern suburbs. There, 
sprinkled about in common stairs, they form a kind of 
colony, possessing a community of south-country recol- 
lections and gossip. 

Following the established rule, our first home was a 
floor entering from a common stair in West Nicolson 
Street. Beneath us, level with the ground, resided a poor 
widow, who drew a scanty living from a small huxtery 
concern. Immediately above us dwelt the widow of a 
Roxburghshire clergyman, a motherly person, with two 
grown-up daughters. Over this respectable family, and 
highest of all, was a tailor, who, working in the window- 
sole of his apartment, had the reputation of doing things 
cheaply. On a level with us, next tenement, but enter- 
ing by a different stair, was a family of some distinction, 
consisting of the two ladies. Miss Betty and Miss Ailie 
Hay, already spoken of by my brother. The kitchen 
fireplaces of both dwellings being back to back, with a 
thin and imperfect wall between, the servant-girls of 
the two families, both exiles from Tweedside, were able 
to carry on comforting conversations by removing a 
brick at pleasure in the chimney ; through which 


irregular channel much varied intelligence from Peebles- 
shire was interchanged between the two families. Here 
we lived till Whitsunday 1814, when we removed to a 
floor of a like quality in Hamilton's Entry, Bristo Street 
— the back windows of the house overlooking the small 
court in which was situated a little old building that 
had been Walter Scott's first school in Edinburgh — 
since removed in the course of city improvements. 

If anything, the families hereabout were more hard- 
up, and, to be plain, we were more hard-up too. Our 
dwelling was on the second floor of the stair, and on 
the flat immediately beneath resided Ebenezer Picken, 
a scholarly gentleman in reduced circumstances, who, 
after trying various shifts to secure a living for himself 
and family, now professed to teach languages, and 
endeavoured to sell by subscription one or two volumes 
of poems, which, I fear, did not do much for him. He 
died in 1816. His son, Andrew, who was also a poetic 
genius, and about my own age, became affected with 
the mania concerning Poyais, and emigrated with a 
number of others to that pestilential marsh, where most 
of the settlers died shortly after landing — Andrew kindly 
acting as chaplain, with a shirt for, surplice, and reading 
the funeral service. From a fellow-feeling in circum- 
stances, we formed an intimacy with our neighbours 
the Pickens, while residing in the same tenement; and 
the friendship was extended over a series of years, until 
the remaining members of the family went to America. 

As regards ways and means. On coming to Edin- 
burgh, my father had resumed his commission business 
from Glasgow cotton-manufacturers, but this trade had 
long been declining, and was but a meagre dependence. 
To aggravate his difficulties, he was not qualified by 


knowledge of the world to deal with the class of work- 
men to whom he furnished employment. Some of them 
were decent enough old sinewy men, sufficiently trust- 
wbrthy; but others, accustomed to go on the tramp, 
used artifices that bafiled his ingenuity. Carrying on 
their handicraft in obscure recesses in Fountainbridge, 
St Ann's Yards, the Back of the Canongate, or Abbey 
Hill, it was sometimes as difficult to trace them out as 
to get any right clue to their manoeuvres. It was by no 
means unusual to find that the materials intrusted to 
them were dishonestly pawned, and that sums of money 
advanced for half-done work on piteous appeals of 
distress were irrecoverable. In short, my father was 
much too soft for this kind of business; and the result 
was what might have been expected. With resources 
on the verge of exhaustion, there ensued privations 
against which it required no small degree of composure 
to bear up. The old German flute, preserved as a 
precious relic throughout the recent disasters of the 
family, was sometimes resorted to as a solace, although 
the favourite airs, such as Corn Rigs, did not sound half 
so sweetly, it was thought, in the dingy atmosphere of 
Hamilton's Entry, as they had done along the Eddleston 

The Dark Ages, as we have since jestingly called 
them, had begun, and for a number of successive years 
an acquaintance was contracted with families and indi- 
viduals, who, if not experiencing a similar depression, 
occupied an unpretending position in society. I can 
recollect some of them, and also the shifty schemes to 
which they were less or more impelled, by the necessities 
of their situation. Widows of decayed tradesmen, who 
were moving heaven and earth to get their sons into 



hospitals, and their daughters taught to be governesses. 
Teachers in the decHne of hfe, like poor Picken, 
endeavouring to draw a subsistence from the fees of 
most-difficult-to-be-procured pupils. Licensed preachers 
to whom fate had not assigned a kirk, and who, after 
years of pining, now made a livelihood by preparing 
young men for university degrees. Genteel unmarried 
women, left destitute by improvident fathers, who con- 
trived to maintain themselves by colouring maps, or by 
sewing fine needle-work for the Repository — a benevo- 
lent and useful institution, to which be all praise. Why 
continue the catalogue ? 

There was some use in knowing, and being known 
to, these kinds of people. I speak not of the value to 
myself, as having an opportunity of studying some of 
the humbler and more characteristic phases of society. 
To my father and mother, these persons, with their 
varied experience, could furnish hints as to how petty 
difficulties incidental to their condition might be over- 
come. One or two things they seem to have made 
their special study. They knew the proper methods of 
applying for situations in public offices, and what 
expedients could be attempted to elude the payment 
of rates and taxes. For the most part, they entertained 
a high respect for, and duly stood in awe of, magistrates, 
ministers, and great men generally; for it was only 
through such distinguished authorities that certificates 
of character and help in various ways could be obtained 
in cases of emergency. Far be it from me to impute 
dishonesty to these ingeniously struggling and scheming 
classes. On the whole, in the darkest of their days, so 
far as I knew, they maintained a wonderful deter- 
mination to keep square with the world. It must be 


admitted, however, that the classes to which I allude 
too frequently entertained loose notions concerning 
taxes. Demands of this nature seemed to be little 
better than asking money for nothing. Rates and 
taxes might be right in the abstract; that they did not 
question. But the collector who came periodically to 
your door with a portentous pocket-book, and made 
point-blank demands for sums of money — such as fifteen 
shillings and ninepence halfpenny, or one pound eleven 
and threepence — which it was exceedingly inconvenient 
to pay, was clearly a nuisance; and with no stretch of 
conscience, he might be coaxed, wheedled, put off, and 
told to call again as long as it was safe to do so. 

In the midst of the straits to which these remarks 
refer, my father, through congeniality of taste, made 
the acquaintance of several persons possessed of 
musical and poetical acquirements. One of these was 
Mr John Hamilton, author of the song. Up in the 
Morning Early, who, drawing to the conclusion of his 
days, lived in a stair at the south end of Lothian Street, 
and in good weather might be seen creeping feebly 
along the walks in the Meadows, deriving pleasure 
from the sunshine, to which he was soon to bid adieu. 
Another was Mr William Clarke, noted for his musical 
genius, who acted as organist of the Episcopal Chapel 
in the Cowgate, the services of which place of public 
worship were at that time conducted by the Rev. 
Archibald Alison, author of the Essay on Taste, and 
Sermons on the Seasons, and whose son was the late 
Sir Archibald Alison, author of the History of Europe. 
As music was my father's overwhelming passion, his 
introduction to the church-organ under the auspices of 
Clarke was a matter of extreme exultation. Entranced 


with the performances of the organ and choir, he 
became a frequent attender on the ministrations of 
Mr AHson, whose persuasive piety, refined sentiments, 
and elegant diction, possessed, as is well known, an 
indescribable charm. 

Charged more especially with family cares, my 
mother had other considerations than church-music. 
What was to be done with me, was a primary concern. 
I was in my fourteenth year. Further schooling was 
out of the question. Robert might go on with his 
education as long as seemed expedient, but it was time 
I should get to work. What would I be? My tastes 
lay in the direction of books ; any department would 
do. A friend put on the scent, reported that on 
inquiry at a leading member of the profession, book- 
selling was a poor business ; at best, it was very 
precarious, and could not be recommended. Not 
discouraged, I still thought my vocation lay towards 
literature in some shape or other. 

Since our arrival in town, I had read all that could 
be read for nothing at the booksellers' windows, and 
at the stalls which were stuck about the College and 
High School Wynds. I had also become a great 
frequenter of the evening book-auctions. The prin- 
cipal were Carfrae's in Drummond Street, and that 
of Peter Cairns in the Agency Office, opposite the 
University. At present, book-auctions are only during 
the day; then, they took place in the evening, and 
were a favourite resort. The sales were indicated by 
a lantern, with panes of white calico, at the door, on 
which was inscribed 'Auction of Books.' My attend- 
ance, punctual on the hanging out of the lantern, was 
a new and delightful recreation. The facetiae of the 


auctioneers, their observations on books and authors, 
and the competitions in the biddings, were all inter- 
esting to a lad fresh from the countiy. Carfrae's was 
the more genteel and dignified. Cairns' was the more 
amusing of these lounges, wherefore it suited best for 
those who went for fun, and not for buying, on which 
account it chiefly secured my patronage. 

Peter was a dry humorist, somewhat saturnine from 
business misadventures. Professedly, he was a book- 
seller in South College Street, and exhibited over his 
door a huge sham copy of Virgil by way of sign. His 
chief trade, however, was the auctioning of books and 
stationery at the Agency Office ; a place with a strong 
smell of new furniture, amidst which it was necessary 
to pass before arriving at the saloon in the rear where 
the auctions were habitually held. Warm, well lighted, 
and comfortably fitted up with seats within a railed 
enclosure environing the books to be disposed of, this 
place of evening resort was as good as a reading-room. 
It was, indeed, rather better, for there was a constant 
fund of amusement in Peter's caustic jocularities — as 
when he begged to remind his audience that this was a 
place for selling, not for reading books — sarcasms which 
always provoked a round of ironical applause. His 
favourite author was Goldsmith, an edition of whose 
works he had published, which pretty frequently figured 
in his catalogue. On coming to these works, he always 
referred to them with profound respect — as, for 
example : ' The next in the catalogue, gentlemen, is 
the works of Oliver GooUsmith, the greatest writer that 
ever lived, except Shakspeare ; what do you say for 
it? — I'll put it up at ten shillings.' Some one would 
perhaps audaciously bid twopence, which threw liim 


into a rage, and he would indignantly call out: 
* Tippence, man ; keep that for the brode^ meaning 
the plate at the church-door. If the same person 
dared to repeat the insult with regard to some other 
work, Peter would say : ' Dear me, has that poor man 
not yet got quit of his tippence?' which turned the 
laugh, and effectually silenced him all the rest of the 
evening. Peter's temper was apt to get ruffled when 
biddings temporarily ceased. He then declared that he 
might as well try to auction books in the poor-house. 
On such occasions, driven to desperation, he would try 
the audience with a bunch of quills, a dozen black-lead 
pencils, or a ' quare ' of Bath-post, vengefully knocking 
which down at the price bidden for them, he would 
shout to 'WuUy,' the clerk, to look after the money. 
Never minding Peter's querulous observations further 
than to join in the general laugh, I, like a number of 
other penniless youths, got some good snatches of 
reading at the auctions in the Agency Office. I there 
saw and handled books which I had never before 
heard of, and in this manner obtained a kind of notion 
of bibliography. My brother, who, like myself, became 
a frequenter of the Agency Office, relished Peter highly, 
and has touched him off in one of his essays. 

Inquiries for the situation of apprentice in a book- 
seller's shop not proving successful, and time wearing 
on, I relinquished my preconceived fancies, and stated 
that I should be glad to be put to any line of business 
whatever. No sooner had this been concluded on than 
an opening seemed to cast up in a grocer's shop 
situated in the Tolbooth Wynd, Leith. Unfortunately, 
Leith was two miles distant, but it was announced that 
the grocer munificently imparted board and lodging to 


his apprentices, and that, in present circumstances, was 
of some importance. It was resolved I should look 
after the place. Accordingly, I one day went off to 
Leith, trudging down from Edinburgh towards the 
Tolbooth Wynd, not greatly elated with the prospect 
before me, but determined not to be nice in accepting 
terms. A friend of the family, resident in Leith, was 
to introduce me. 

On reaching the spot with him, nearly opposite the 
public fountain, I paused a moment outside to recon- 
noitre the grocer's premises, before proceeding. The 
windows exhibited quantities of raw sugar in different 
varieties of brownness, hovering over which were swarms 
of flies, in a state of frantic enjoyment. Sticks of black 
liquorice leaned coaxingly on the second row of panes, 
flanked by tall glass jars of sweeties and peppermint 
drops ; behind tliese outward attractions, there were 
observable yellow-painted barrels of whisky, rows of 
bottles of porter, piles of cheeses of varied complexions, 
firkins of salt butter, and boxes of soap. At the counter 
were a number of women and children buying articles, 
such as quarter-ounces of tea and ounces of sugar ; and 
the floor was battered with dirt and debris. 

I was not much pleased with the look of the place, 
but I had no choice. Entering, somewhat timidly, 
with my conductor, I was described as the boy who had 
been recommended as an apprentice, and was ushered 
into the back-room to be examined as to my capabilities. 
It was immediately seen that I was physically incom- 
petent to fill the situation. The chief qualification in 
demand was muscular vigour. The boy wanted would 
have to draw a truck loaded with several hundredweights 
of goods, to be delivered to customers, it might be miles 


distant. Instead of an apprentice, it was in reality a 
horse that might have been advertised for, or at the least 
an able-bodied porter. I was at once pronounced to 
be unfit for this enviable post — a much too delicately 
made youth — a day's work with the barrow or the bottle- 
basket would finish me — I had better abandon the idea 
of being a grocer. With these remarks pronounced for 
doom, I retired, not a little downcast at the unfortunate 
issue of the expedition, and sorrowfully returned up the 
Walk to Edinburgh. 



T T 0\V little are we able to penetrate the future ! The 
journey to Leith was not thrown away. In 
returning homewards, I had occasion to pass the shop 
of Mr John Sutherland, bookseller, Calton Street, an 
establishment opposite the Black Bull Hotel, the starting- 
place of the mail-coaches for London. In the window 
was the announcement, 'An Apprentice Wanted.' Here 
was the right thing at last. I did not lose time in com- 
municating this piece of intelligence. 

Having in the first place narrated the failure of the 
Leith affair, I proceeded to describe the discovery 1 
had made in Calton Street. There was forthwith a 
family cogitation on the subject, and it was resolved 
that next day I should accompany my mother on a tour 
of investigation into the nature of the place. Next 
morning, accordingly, after being brushed up for the 
occasion, I set out for Sutherland's. Our reception was 
gratifyingly polite. The bookseller expressed himself 
satisfied with my appearance and the extent of my 
education. He said that in all respects I should be 
perfectly qualified for the situation. My principal duties 


for two or three years would be very easy. I should only 
have to light the fire, take off and put on the shutters, 
clean and prepare the oil-lamps, sweep and dust the 
shop, and go all the errands. When I had nothing else 
to do, I was to stand behind the counter, and help in 
any way that was wanted ; and talking of that, it would 
be quite contrary to rule for me ever to sit down, or to 
put off time reading. 

In laying down the law, Sutherland admitted that at 
first the duties, though no way burdensome, might not 
perhaps be very pleasant, but the routine was sanctioned 
by immemorial usage. Constable and all the other 
great booksellers had begun in this way. Every one 
who aspired to take a front rank in the profession, must 
begin by being a junior apprentice. The period of 
service was five years at four shillings a week ; not high 
pay, to be sure, but it was according to universal rule, 
from which he could see no departure. 

My mother, who conducted the negotiation, found 
no fault with the proposed duties and terms \ still she 
had her misgivings, and ventured to remark that her 
son was surely wrong in wishing to follow the business. 
' We may manage,' she said, ' to get him through his 
apprenticeship, but I have serious fears of what is to 
follow. We cannot set him up in business, and how' 
(looking around) ' can he ever be able to get a stock 
of books like that?' 

The bookseller endeavoured to allay her apprehen- 
sions, and his remarks are worth repeating : ' There is 
no fear of any one getting forward in the world, if he 
be only steady, obliging, attentive to his duties, and 
exercise a reasonable degree of patience. I can assure 
you, when I was the age of your son, I had as poor 

MV APrJ7ENT/C£SmF—iSi4 to 1S19. 87 

prospects as any one ; yet, I have so far got on toler- 
ably well. In the outset of life, it is needless to look 
too far in advance. We must just do the best we can 
in the meantime, and hope that all will turn out rightly 
in the end.' These sensible observations left nothing 
further to be said. The bargain was struck. I was to 
come next Monday morning to be initiated by an elder 
apprentice. And so, on the 8th of May 18 14, I was 
launched into the business world. 

In August the following year, the family quitted 
Edinburgh. In his desperation, my father accepted the 
situation of commercial manager of a salt manufactory, 
called Joppa Pans, a smoky odorous place, consisting of 
a group of sooty buildings, situated on the sea-shore 
half-way between Portobello and Musselburgh ; and 
thither, to a small dwelling amidst the steaming salt- 
pans, they all removed except myself. Robert, who 
had now come from Peebles, and been some time at an 
academy in Edinburgh, accompanied them ; the arrange- 
ment being that he should walk to and from town 
daily. I was left to pursue my business, being for this 
puq^ose consigned to a lodging that may merit some 

Until this disruption, I had no occasion to rely on 
myself Now matters were changed. I was to have 
an opportunity of learning practically how far my weekly 
earnings would go in defraying the cost of board and 
lodging. In short, at little above fifteen years of age, 
I was thrown on my own resources. From necessity, 
not less than from choice, 1 resolved at all hazards to 
make the weekly four shillings serve for everything. I 
cannot remember entertaining the slightest despondency 
on the subject. But what may not any one with the 


buoyancy of youth dare to encounter ? Inspired by my 
mother's advices, animated by her noble example of un- 
complaining meekness, all difficulties were overlooked. 

As favourable for carrying out my aims at an inde- 
pendent style of living, I had the good-fortune to be 
installed in the dwelling of a remarkably precise and 
honest widow, a Peebles woman, who, with two grown- 
up sons, occupied the top story of a building in the 
West Port. My landlady had the reputation of being 
excessively parsimonious, but as her honesty was of 
importance to one in my position, and as she consented 
to let me have a bed, cook for me, and allow me to sit 
by her fireside — the fire, by the way, not being much 
to speak of — for the reasonable charge of eighteen- 
pence a week, I was thought to be lucky in finding her 
disposed to receive me within her establishment. To 
her dwelling, therefore, I repaired with my all, consisting 
of a few articles of clothing and tvvo or three books, 
including a pocket Bible — the whole contained in a 
small blue-painted box, which I carried on my shoulder 
along the Grassmarket. 

This abode, the uppermost floor in Boak's Land, was 
more elevated than airy. The back of the tall edifice 
overhung a tannery and a wild confusion of mean 
enclosures, with an outlook beyond to the castle, perched 
on its dark precipitous rock. The thoroughfare in 
front was then, as it is* still, one of the most crowded 
and wretched in the city. The apartment assigned to 
me was a bed-closet, with a narrow window fronting 
the street. Yet this den was not all my own. For 
a time, it was shared with a student of divinity, a 
youth of my own age from the hills of Tweeddale ; and 
afterwards with my brother Robert, when it was found 


inexpedient for him to live in the country, and go to 
and from town daily. 

Being all of us from Peeblesshire, there was much 
to speak of in common, though with no great cordiality 
of intercourse. In the evenings, when mason and car- 
penter lads dropped in, the conversation turned chiefly 
on sermons. Each visitor brought with him experiences 
as to how texts had been handled on the preceding 
Sunday ; on which there ensued discussions singularly 
characteristic of a well-known phase in the Scotch mind. 

* Weal, Tammie,' inquired the widow one evening at 
Tammie Tod, a journeyman mason lately arrived from 
the country, ' what was the doctor on last Sabbath after- 

* He was on the Song ' — meaning the Song of Solomon. 
' Eh, the Song ! that would be grand. He 's a 

wonderfu' man the doctor : and what was his text?' 

* It was a real fine text,' said Tammie, ' the deepest 
ever I heard — " For my head is filled with dew, and my 
locks with the drops of the night ;" fifth chapter, second 
verse, the second clause of the verse.' 

* I ken that text weel,' responded the widow. ' I 
heard a capital discourse on it thirty years syne ; but 
how did the doctor lay it out ? ' 

' He divided it into five heads, ending with an appli- 
cation, which it would be weel for us a' to tak' to heart.' 

And so Tammie, who had a proficiency in dissect- 
ing and criticising sermons, proceeded to describe with 
logical precision the manner in which his minister had 
handled the very intricate subject; his definitions being 
listened to and commented on with extraordinary relish. 

Let no one hastily conclude that there was anything 
to ridicule in these searching, though perhaps too 


speculative and familiar disquisitions; for apart from 
any religious consideration, they bore evidence of that 
spirit of inquiry and love of reasoning on momentous 
topics which may be, said to have made Scodand what 
it is. I may not have been the better, but was by no 
means the worse, for hearing Tammie Tod's sermon 
experiences in that little upper floor in the West Port, 
and have often compared what there came under my 
observation with the unideaed sotting and want of all 
mental culture which unhappily mark certain depart- 
ments of the population in different parts of the United 

On market-days, my landlady was usually visited 
about dinner-time by some horny-fisted old acquaint- 
ance from about Leithen or Gala Water, with a 
shepherd's plaid around his shoulders ; and who, after 
being treated to a share of the bannocks and kail, 
would finish off with a blast on the widow's tobacco- 
pipe ; for, with all her saving habits, our worthy hostess 
indulged — moderately, I must say — in this luxury. The 
conversation of these worthies ran still on controversial 
divinity. They talked of the Hind Let Loose, Boston's 
Marrow, the Crook in the Lot, and the Fourfold State 
— standard topics among the class to which they 
belonged; and if I did not quite apprehend or was 
not improved by the discussions, they at least afforded 
an amusing study of character. 

The charge made for my accommodation in these 
quarters left some scope for financiering as regards the 
remaining part of my wages. It was a keen struggle, 
but, like Franklin, whose autobiography I had read 
with avidity, I faced it with all proper resolution. My 
contrivances to make both ends meet were in some 


degree amusing. As a final achievement in the art 
of cheap Hving, I was able to make an outlay of a 
shilling and ninepence suffice for the week. Below that 
I could not well go. Reaching this point, I had nine- 
pence over for miscellaneous demands, chiefly in the 
department of shoes, which constituted an awkwardly 
heavy item. On no occasion did I look to parents for 
the slightest pecuniary subsidy. 

If any one is so complimentary as to think that I had 
some merit in devising how to live on so low a figure as 
a shilling and ninepence a week, he may be disposed to 
modify his surprise on my stating that the expenditure 
did not include Sunday, on which day I was at home ; 
so that, after all, the one-and-ninepence weekly inferred 
as much as threepence-halfpenny a day. How it 
was practicable to subsist on a sum apparently so 
diminutive, is only to be explained by two things — a 
resolute abstinence from all articles of luxury, and a 
union for eating purposes among the different members 
in the establishment. On tea, coffee, sugar, and 
some other articles of ordinary consumption, not a 
farthing was expended. I did not even attempt to 
buy new milk. My landlady had her own notions 
regarding food. As some consolation for plain- 
ness of fare, she declared, that ' eating is just a use,' 
meaning that you may accustom yourself to, and be 
satisfied with, anything. She thought it wasteful and 
ridiculous to consult the palate. It came all to the same 
thing, after the food got through the mouth. An 
excellent philosophy this for those who, like myself, 
had to consult the spending capacity of threepence-half- 
penny on daily subsistence. 

The practice of the little woman was as admirable as 


her reasoning. She was the general caterer, an office to 
which she did great justice. Tlie principal reliance was 
on oatmeal, of which, at the cheapest shops, she bought 
for each lodger a peck at a time. With a row of bags 
ranged on the table, she drew a handful from each 
corresponding to the quantity of porridge required ; so 
that every one got his due. For her own share, she 
had that amount of the mess which adhered to the 
inside of the pot. The only liquid relish taken with the 
porridge was butter-milk, purchased in large quantities 
from farmers' carts weekly, and divided with the same 
scrupulous accuracy. Sometimes the fluid became more 
acrid than was at all pleasant, but this was partly 
remedied by a process of beating up, which had a 
modifying effect that would require some chemistry 
to explain. Good or bad, the choice lay betwixt it 
and nothing. Such was the staple — porridge with this 
species of milk, for breakfast and supper. As for 
dinner, a single pound of meat boiled in an immense 
quantity of water, with a profusion of barley and vege- 
tables, and allocated according to pecuniary contribution, 
answered the purpose, along with a piece of bread. 
There was the whole affair. My daily expenditure, like 
that of most of the lodgers, stood thus : 

Breakfast — porridge, three farthings ; butter -milk, one 

farthing £q o i 

Dinner— broth, three farthings; bread, three farthings... o o \\ 

Supper, same as breakfast o o I 

;^o o 3^ 
Our landlady had a high opinion of the filling 
qualities of broth, usually spoken of as kail, and only at 
odd times prepared a dinner for us of salt fish, or some- 
thing equally cheap. That the dietetic arrangements 



occasionally failed to avert the sensation of a certain 
internal vacuum, I may not deny. Sometimes, in the 
course of my long walks, I acknowledge to having 
felt a little hungry, and perhaps also to having looked 
too wistfully at the contents of the bakers' windows. 
But on the whole, I suftered no injury to health, and 
made the best of circumstances which, by involving 
the inventive faculty, kept the mind wholesomely on the 
alert. It is something to have practically realised the 
pleasures and advantages of the temperance so highly 
recommended by the famed Louis Cornaro. 

Was there none, all this time, to lend a helping-hand / 
to the struggling bookseller's apprentice? I did not 
put any one to the test. My mother had some 
relations in town moving in respectable circles ; but ' 
I felt disinclined to court their intimacy. Admitting 
that I may in this respect have acted with unreasonable 
shyness, I am inclined to think that the policy of 
keeping aloof was the most advantageous in the end. 
Isolation was equivalent to independence of thought 
and action. Contact with the relatives I speak of 
would have been subjection. 

High principle, however, hardly entered into my 
calculations. Pursuing my course from a resolute 
feeling of self-reliance, I just went on without troubling 
myself about anybody; trusting that things somehow 
would come right in the long-run. I should say, from 
my own observation, that young persons often chafe 
unnecessarily at being neglected by those whom they 
imagine should take notice of them. On the contrary, 
as a general rule, they ought to be thankful for being 
let alone, with a clear stage whereon they can act their 
part, alike unencumbered with advice or disheartened 



by adverse criticism. To be always pining to be 
noticed, brought forward, taken by the hand, and done 
for, is anything but wise or manly. There are, doubt- 
less, instances where the deserving are entitled to such 
assistance as can be safely or conveniently extended 
towards them. But in too many cases the visionary 
expectation of aid paralyses exertion, and consumes 
valuable time that might very properly be devoted to 
individual effort. At anyrate, I do not doubt that I 
should have suffered injury at this critical period, by 
getting entangled with fine people, invited to fine 
houses, and led to mix in fine evening-parties. Pro- 
ceedings of that seductive kind would have been 
distinctly at variance with my condition. What was I 
but one of a thousand nameless lads, whom in passing 
no one knew or cared for ? Shrouded by insignificance, 
I could fortunately, like others in a similar situation, 
work my way on in silence and obscurity, without 
any provocation to false shame, which almost more 
than anything else is the stumbling-block of youth. 
The very circumstance of my having come from the 
country, and of being little kno^^^l to young men of my 
own standing, was a point in my favour. 

It nevertheless, I o^vn, required some fortitude to 
bear up against the hardships incidental to my situation 
as a junior apprentice, literally the slave of the lamp, 
and the drudge of the establishment. Though not 
beaten and dragooned as I had been at school, it was 
my destiny to experience no very gentle treatment. 
My employer, a stern disciplinarian, took the work out 
of his apprentices. He seemed to have no regard for 
the number of miles he caused them to walk in a day 
in the way of business. In addition to his trade as a 


bookseller, he kept a circulating library, and also 
acted as an agent for the State Lottery. Independently, 
therefore, of a multitude of errands with parcels of 
books and stationery, I was charged with the delivery 
of vast quantities of circular letters eulogising the suc- 
cessive lotteries, which, in reason, ought to have been 
despatched through the post-office. Frequently I was 
sent on my travels with as many as three hundred 
letters, sorted and tied in bundles in the manner of a 
postman ; and as my circuit took me up dozens of long 
stairs over miles of thoroughfares, I had an opportunity 
of acquiring a knowledge of the town and the names of 
its inhabitants. 

In all this I was inconsiderately treated, and can 
never cease to think so. But there was something 
likewise to be thankful for. Sutherland enforced 
habits of punctuality and order, which happily stuck 
to me through life, along with a due appreciation of 
such morsels of time as can be spared from ordinary 
pursuits. My apprenticeship, like that of many 
others, was my drill ; a harsh drill, no doubt, but it is 
difficult to see how, without some kind of vigorous 
training, youth is to grow into manhood with a proper 
conception of a number of common -place but im- 
portant obligations. Certainly, old injunctions say as 

My heaviest grievance was the delivery of those 
odious piles of lottery circulars, a species of labour that 
in no shape advanced my professional knowledge. To 
what hand, however, could I turn to rid myself of this 
slavery? The choice lay between suffering and nu'n. 
It was my safest course to submit. Over the doorway 
of an old house in tho West Bow, which I passed 


several times daily, was the inscription carved in 

'he that tholes overcomes.' 

I made up my mind to thole — a pithy old Scottish word 
signifying to bear with patience ; the whole inscription 
reminding us of a sentiment in Virgil : ' Whatever may 
happen, every kind of fortune is to be overcome by 
bearing it.'* 

After all, the drudgery I had in connection with the 
lotteries is not utterly to be condemned. It afforded 
an amusing insight into the weaknesses of human 
nature. I could scarcely have learned what I did by 
sitting with composure in the lap of ease and luxury. 
As regards the state lottery, it is interesting for me to 
remember that I was once a humble minister in that 
gigantic national concern. And what a queer, strugg- 
ling, whimsical set of people came under notice ! Some 
would buy only odd numbers of five figures, such as 
17,359; some eagerly sought for numbers which they 
had dreamt of being prizes, and would have no other ; 
some brought children to select a number from the 
quantity offered — a degree of weakness which was out- 
done by those who superstitiously brought the seventh 
son of a seventh son to make the selection for them ; 
some, more whimsical still, would only purchase at the 
last moment what everybody else had rejected. Few were 
so extravagant as to buy whole tickets, or even halves, 
quarters, or eighths. The great majority contented 
themselves with a sixteenth, the price of which was 
usually about a guinea and a half; and as the fortunate 
holder of the sixteenth of a twenty-thousand-pound 

* ' Quidquid erit, superanda omnis fortuna ferendo est.' — ^neid, v. 


prize would realise above twelve hundred pounds, the 
temptation to this species of gambling was enormous. 

It would be an error to imagine that the dispersion of 
those myriads of lottery circulars in the obscurest quarters 
had no practical efficacy. The chief buyers of sixteenths 
were persons connected with the markets, hackney-coach- 
men, waiters at hotels, female housekeepers, small 
tradesmen, and those of limited means generally, wlio 
hoped to become rich by a happy turn of the wheel. 
Inmates of the Sanctuary of Holyrood and the debtors' 
prisons were numbered among the steady customers of 
the state lottery. Both, therefore, as a messenger with 
lottery intelligence, and as an errand-boy with j^arcels 
of books, I had frequent occasion to visit and become 
less or more acquainted with these places. 

The Sanctuary, which embraced a cluster of decayed 
buildings in front and on both sides of Holyrood 
Palace, was at that time more resorted to by refugee 
debtors than it is in this improved age. It was seldom 
without distinguished characters from England — some 
of them gaunt, oldish gentlemen, seemingly broken- 
down men of fashion, wearing big gold spectacles, who 
now drew out existence here in defiance of creditors. 
To this august class of persons, who stood in need of 
supplies of books from the circulating library, I paid 
frecjuent visits ; and conscious, perhaps, that they gave 
me some extra trouble, they were so considerate as to 
present me with an occasional sixpence, which I could 
not politely refuse. 

Customers in the Canongate jail, anil in the Old 
Tolbooth, renowned as the ' Heart of Mid-Lothian,' 
were less munificent, but considerably more hearty in 
tlicir intercourse. Tlie greater number of them were 


third-rate shopkeepers, who, after struggling for years 
against debts, rents, and taxes, had finally succumbed 
to the sheriff-officer, and been drifted to a safe anchor- 
age, which they did not seem to think particularly 
unpleasant. The law had done its worst upon them, 
and for a time they were at rest. 

The chief of these prisons, the Old Tolbooth, was a 
tall black building in the High Street, noted in the 
national annals : That Tolbooth on the lofty pinnacle of 
which was ignominiously stuck the head of the gallant 
Marquis of Montrose, in 1650, and whence, after 
bleaching for ten years, it was taken down and replaced 
by the head of the Marquis of Argyll : That Tolbooth 
which Byron has referred to with unjustifiable bitterness 
in his English Bards and Scotch Revieiuers : 

' Arthur's steep summit nodded to its base, 
The surly Tolbooth scarcely kept her place. 
The Tolbooth felt — for marble sometimes can, 
On such occasions, feel as much as man — 
The Tolbooth felt defrauded of her charms, 
If Jeffrey died except within her arms.' 

After undergoing various mutations, this gloomy struc- 
ture now served the double purpose of a jail for debtors 
and criminals. The two departments were quite dis- 
tinct, the apartments for criminals being in the east end, 
and those for debtors being in the west. But all entered 
by the same door — that portal where the rioters of the 
Porteous Mob thundered in 1736. This doorway, 
situated at the foot of the south-eastern turret, was 
opened by a turnkey who was seated outside, or in a 
small adjoining vault on the ground-floor of the building. 
Level with it, facing the north, and occupying the 
remainder of the street-floor, was the office of the 


Town-guard, who were ready at hand in case of any emer- 
gency. Having gained an access by the outer portal of 
the Tolbooth, you ascended a flight of about twenty 
steps to an inner door, whicli was opened on the ringing 
of a bell by the outer turnkey. You were now in the 
Hall, a spacious apartment, with a sanded stone floor, 
and seats along the sides. It was well lighted by a large 
stanchioned window facing the south. Fbced on the 
wall nearly opposite the doorway, there was a black 
board, on which was painted the following admonitory 
inscription, that is said to have been originally and 
specially designed for the King's Bench Prison : 

' A prison is a house of care, 

A place where none can thrive, 
A touchstone true to try a friend, 

A grave for men alive — 
Sometimes a house of right, 

Sometimes a house of wrong, 
Sometimes a place for jades and thieves, 

And honest men among.' 

The Hall was a common vestibule, whence an entrance 
was gained to the two departments. While the criminals 
were confined to their rooms in the East End, the 
prisoners under civil process, who were lodged in the 
West End, moved about at pleasure during the day 
from the Hall to the several apartments on two upper 
stories ; and, accordingly, for them there was almost the 
freedom of a lodging-house. The place of public 
execution was the flat roof of a low building attached 
to the western gable, and, to reach it, convicts were 
conducted across the Hall. 

My knowledge of this strange old jail needs a word 
of explanation. Among the debtors whom 1 visited in 

loo MEMOIR. 

the way of business, there was one, a young man, who 
had been previously known to our family. Having 
failed in business under circumstances which led to an 
unusually long imprisonment, I frequently saw him, and 
was able to learn numerous particulars concerning the 
VVest-Enders and their ways of living, which would 
otherwise have been beyond my reach. As the Tolbooth 
was removed in 1817, it was my fortune to be its visitor 
during the last three years of its existence, and to 
become fomiliarised with a condition of things of which 
there is now no parallel. My experiences of Tolbooth 
life were in the days of free-and-easy prison arrange- 
ments. As yet, neither county prison boards nor prison 
inspectors had been heard of. The magistrates and 
council undertook the responsibility of cost and manage- 
ment, also appointed the officials, the chief of whom, 
honoured with the designation of Captain, was ordinarily 
some old citizen who stood well with the corporation. 
There was a simplicity about the whole system, which 
is now difficult to be realised by any description. So 
far as the debtors were concerned, the prison was little 
else than a union of lodging-house and tavern, under 
lock and key. Acquaintances might call as often and 
stay as long as they pleased. The inmates and their 
visitors, if they felt inclined, could treat themselves to 
refreshments in a cosy little apartment, half-tavern, half- 
kitchen, superintended by a portly female, styled Lucky 
Laing, whence issued pretty frequently the pleasant 
sounds of broiling beef-steaks, and the drawings of corks 
from bottles of ale and porter. 

Much of the cordiality that prevailed was due to the 
governor, Captain Sibbald, a benevolently disposed little 
man, with a merry twinkle in his eyes, dressed in a 


sober pepper-and-salt coloured suit. I heard no end of 
his acts of kindness to debtors as well as criminals, or 
of putting poor youths in the way of well-doing who had 
passed through his hands. Although his salary was no 
more than a hundred and fifty pounds a year, he was 
known to take on himself the obligation of guaranteeing 
the payment of a debt, rather than retain in custody a 
poor man with a large family, brought to him for 
imprisonment. In the East End, he had almost con- 
stantly a male or female convict under sentence of 
death ; and though not able to mitigate their unhappy 
doom, he always endeavoured to assuage their jnesent 
sufferings. Until his time, they had been literally fed 
on bread and water, during the six weeks that elapsed 
between sentence and execution. He generously broke 
through this harsh rule, not a little to the dissatisfaction 
of the Lord Advocate of the day ; but in the contest his 
humanity prevailed, and the rule was ever after practi- 
cally relaxed. I heard it approvingly said of him, that 
at his own expense he procured a dentist to draw a 
tooth which so tortured a convict that he could not 
sleep ; it was further reported that he always saw that 
the men were comfortably shaved on the morning of 
the day they were to be hanged, and that he uniformly 
pressed a glass of wine on the women on their being 
conducted through the Hall to execution. Such was 
the gossip of the prison. 

One of the strange things told of the Tolbooth is, 
that on various occasions it gave a secure retreat to 
persons who lied from justice. A gentleman alleged to 
have been concerned in the Rye-House Plot, in the 
reign of Charles II., and of whom the civil authorities 
were in search, received protection from a friend in the 

102 MEMOIR. 

Tolbooth, where no one thought of looking for him ; 
and whence he eventually escaped to the continent. 
In 1746, there was a similar case of protection to a 
gentleman who was sought after ineffectually for his 
concern in the Rebellion. 

I can realise the truth of these traditions, by having 
found a voluntary resident in the Tolbooth, who was 
not recognised as a prisoner, or as being there at all. 
This was a gifted but erratic genius, known by his 
familiar Christian name, Davie, who, after suffering a 
variety of disasters, received sympathy and succour 
among his friends in the West End. Of course, for 
this indulgence, he was indebted to the good-hearted 
governor, who, like his predecessors, did not find it 
to be consistent with his duty to be too particular. In 
making his last round at night, and ascending the spiral 
staircase, which was provided with a rope that performed 
the part of a hand-rail, he would considerately, as if by 
accident, jingle the bunch of well-worn keys, by way of 
announcing his approach. In casting a look around 
the apartment to see that all strangers were gone, and 
saying 'Good-night, gentlemen,' he might have known, 
had he cared to know, that one of the inmates shared 
his bed with Davie, who was at that very moment — 
thanks to the jingle of the keys — ensconced upright in 
a tight-fitting wall-press at the corner of the apartment. 

I had often occasion to meet and interchange cour- 
tesies with Davie, who was an essential adjunct of the 
prison fraternity. Having lost means, character, and 
friends in the outer world, he was duly qualified by his 
obliging manners, his accom[)lishments, and his poverty, 
to be an acceptable guest of the West-Enders. The 
Tolbooth was his home by choice. He lived in it for 

DA VIE. ,03 

years, seeing out successive groups of debtors, but always 
as much esteemed by the new-comers as by the older 
residents. How they could have done without him, it 
is painful to consider. He was a general fiictotum — 
went out and made purchases for them, carried messages 
to law-agents, posted letters, and, on great occasions, 
ordered in dinners from Mrs Ferguson's, a noted tavern 
in the neighbourhood. His jocularities, his singing, 
and his ability to take a hand at whist, were, of course, 
recommendations of a high order. There were other 
reasons for thinking well of Davie. He was modest as 
regards his own wants. Debtors of the better class, on 
quitting the prison, would make him a present of a few 
articles of dress, and perhaps kindly leave half-a-crown 
in one of the pockets. Davie could not be said to have 
any regular meals. He lived principally on odd crusts 
of bread, pieces of biscuits, drams, and drops of ale or 
porter. Talking of drams, it was against rule to intro- 
duce spirits into the prison, but, through the agency of 
Davie, there never was any particular scarcity of the 
article. As a scout serviceable in this as in other things, 
he stood well with Peter, the keeper of the door in the 
Hall, rather a good-humoured Cerberus. Peter was 
blind of an eye, which some might think an advantage ; 
he wore a woollen cap on his bald head, and always 
walked softly about the sanded stone floor in carpet- 

The West End was two rooms in breadth, one entering 
from the other. The windows in these apartments 
looked only south and north, but the inmates had a 
device for extending the prospect in other directions. 
They had only to hold out a mirror beyond the 
stanchions to calcli a glimpse of who was at the jiorlal 


near the north-west corner of St Giles, or of what was 
going on in the street. By means of this kind, they 
were able to see the remnant of the 420! Regiment 
as it marches towards the castle on its return from 
Waterloo. The method of looking directly westwards 
up the Lawnmarket was still more ingenious. In the 
gable of the building there was a hole or slit into which 
the beam of the gallows was inserted for public execu- 
tions. So intruded, the beam projected about two feet 
into one of the debtors' apartments, where it made its 
appearance near the foot of the bed in which Davie 
participated. I remember paying a visit to the prison 
on the day after an execution, while it was still a subject 
of conversation. Confined to their rooms during the 
tragical ceremony, one of the debtors, along with Davie, 
I was told, had jocularly seated themselves on the inner 
end of the beam at the time the miserable culprit was 
in the course of being suspended from the other. The 
hole in the gable was already closed, but as execu- 
tions, according to the heartless policy of the period, 
were then frequent, the building was performed in a 
superficial way. In the centre of the masonry, a cork 
was introduced by particular request, and this being 
pulled out at pleasure, a view was obtained in the 
required direction — a convenience this of no small con- 
sequence to the West-Enders, which the obliging 
governor of the establishment did not notice or call in 

Besides Davie, who became a naturalised inhabitant 
of tlie Tolbooth, tliere were other hangers-on in whose 
society the inmates found a degree of solace. For the 
greater part, the debtors were attempting to carry through 
the legal process of liberation known as the cessio, and 


accordingly required the assistance of law-practitioners. 
Professional aid in these and other matters was usually 
rendered by a class of persons who it would be hazardous 
to say were on the roll of authorised attorneys. A kind 
of supernumeraries in the profession, and with a know- 
ledge of forms, they hung about the prisons for jobs ; 
modestly, as it were, keeping on the outskirts of society, 
in order to gather up the defiled cnmibs which the 
notabilities of the law disdained to recognise. For the 
services which they rendered to the poorer order of 
clients, it is not clear that payment was made in coin. 
Seemingly, they had the run of the prison. When half- 
a-mutchkin was smuggled in through Davie's valuable 
assistance, they came in for a tasting, and at various hours 
of the day — not being particular as to time of luncheon 
— they held deeply interesting conferences in Lucky 
Laing's tavern, over smoking dishes of steaks and 
creaming tumblers of porter. Talking plentifully between 
mouthfuls, and winking knowingly with one eye, they 
held out such sanguine hopes of getting things carried 
through cheaply — no expense to speak of but the office 
fees — as could not fail to raise the drooping spirits of 
the poor wives who came to hold council with their 
imprisoned husbands. 

The law-agents of this stamp who frequented the 
West End had for coadjutor a medical practitioner, 
not less necessary than themselves in carrying on 
operations. I am not aware that in the present day 
the doctor who haunted the Tolbooth has any dis- 
tinct representative. He had at one time occupied a 
respectable position as a medical practitioner, but now, 
broken down by intemperance, he confined his profes- 
sional services to the inmates of the West End, to 

io6 MEMOIR. 

whom he made himself presentable by blacking the 
white edges of his button-moulds with ink, and keeping 
a band of faded crape on his hat, as if always in deep 
mourning. It was fortunate for the doctor that the 
law had considerately instituted the cessio. He lived 
upon it. Without it, there was no visible refuge but 
the work-house. His function consisted in granting 
sick certificates — fee, five shillings, with a dram as a 
matter of course, and a biscuit to give the refection 
an air of respectability. In virtue of a certificate of 
this nature, fortified by a warrant from the court, the 
ailing debtor was allowed to go home to his sorrowing 
family, and his prescribed thirty days' imprisonment 
became a sort of legal fiction. At all events, the law 
was satisfied, which was what the West-Enders alone 
cared for. I lost sight of the doctor after the Tolbooth 
was pulled down in 1817. He then disappeared from 
the visible creation, as a result of one of the many 
statutory enactments that have latterly rubbed out our 
social eccentricities. 

As an eddy comer of the world's tumultuous current, 
into which light floating wreck was naturally swept, 
the Old Tolbooth, with its scenes of grief and drollery, 
might not be supposed to be quite an appropriate resort 
for a lad who had to make his way in the sober track of 
life. All I can summon to remembrance in the matter 
is, that I here incidentally saw do\vn into the depths of 
society, to which the affluent classes have little oppor- 
tunity of penetrating. My experiences among the shifty 
sub-middle classes, here as elsewhere, proved by no 
means the least valuable part of my training for the 
career into which I was ultimately drifted. Nor has the 
recollection of the Old Tolbooth and its inmates ever 


ceased to afford a fund of entertainment. In the 
Memoirs of a celebrated duchess, we are favoured 
with the contrast which Her Grace draws between her 
present grand dull routine of existence, and the times 
long past, when, skirmishing with pecuniary difficulties, 
she pursued the life of an actress ; her preference being 
decidedly given for * lang syne,' with its sparkling wit, 
glee, and poverty, unburdened with the vapid solemnities 
of etiquette. The duchess, however, had no wish to 
return to these delightful early pursuits. 

I made such attempts as were at all practicable, 
while an apprentice, to remedy the defects of my 
education at school. Nothing in that way could be 
done in the shop, for there reading was proscribed. 
But allowed to take home a book for study, I gladly 
availed myself of the privilege. The mornings in 
summer, when light cost nothing, were my chief 
reliance. Fatigued with trudging about, I was not 
naturally inclined to rise, but on this and some other 
points I overruled the will, and forced myself to get 
up at five o'clock, and have a spell at reading until it 
was time to think of moving off — my brother, when he 
was with me, doing the same. In this way I made 
some progress in French, with the pronunciation of 
which I was already familiar from the speech of tlie 
French prisoners of war at Peebles. I likewise dii)ped 
into several books of solid worth — such as Smith's 
Wealth of Nations, Locke's Human Understanding, 
Paley's Moral FJiilosophy, and Blair's Bellcs-Lettres — 
fixing the leading facts and theories in my memory by 
a note-book for the purpose. In another book, I kept 
for years an accurate account of my expenses, not 
allowing a single halfpenny to escape record. 

io8 MEMOIR. 

In the winter of 1815-16, when the cold and cost of 
candle-light would have detained me in bed, I was so 
fortunate as to discover an agreeable means of spending 
my mornings. The sale of lottery tickets, I have said, 
formed a branch of my employer's business. Besides 
distributing the lottery circulars, it fell to my lot to 
paste all the large show-boards with posters of glaring 
colours, bearing the words ' Lucky Office,' ' Twenty 
Thousand Pounds still in the Wheel,' and such-like 
seductive announcements. The board-carriers — shilling- 
a-day men — were usually a broken-down set of charac- 
ters ; as, for example, old waiters and footmen, with 
pale flabby faces and purple noses ; discharged soldiers, 
who had returned in a shattered condition from the 
wars ; and tattered operatives of middle age, ruined by 

Among the last-named class of board-carriers, there 
was a journeyman baker who had an eye irretrievably 
damaged by some rough, but possibly not unprovoked, 
usage in a king's birthday riot. What from the bad 
eye, and wliat from whiskey, this unfortunate being had 
fallen out of regular employment. Now and then, when 
there was a push in the trade, as at the New-year, he 
got a day's work from his old employer, a baker in 
Canal Street. He was not at all nice as to occupa- 
tion : he would deliver hand-bills, perambulate the 
streets with a lottery-board at the top of a pole over 
his shoulder, or anything else that cast up — only he 
needed a little watching, for, when out on a job with 
the relics of the previous day's shilling in his pocket, he 
was prone to thirstiness in passing a dram-shop, 
into which he would dive, board and all, regardless of 


From this hopeful personage, whom it was my duty 
to look after, I one day had a proposition, which he 
had been charged to communicate. If I pleased, he 
would introduce me to his occasional employer, the 
baker in Canal Street, who, he said, was passionately 
fond of reading, but without leisure for its gratification. 
If I would go early — very early — say five o'clock in the 
morning, and read aloud to him and his two sons, 
while they were preparing their batch, I should be 
regularly rewarded for my trouble with a penny roll 
newly drawn from the oven. Hot rolls, as I have 
since learned, are not to be recommended for the 
stomach, but I could not in these times afford to be 
punctilious. The proposal was too captivating to be 

Behold me, then, quitting my lodgings in the West 
Port, before five o'clock in the winter mornings, and 
pursuing my way across the town to the cluster of 
sunk streets below the North Bridge, of which Canal 
Street was the principal. The scene of operations was 
a cellar of confined dimensions, reached by a flight of 
steps descending from the street, and possessing a small 
back window immediately beyond the baker's kneading- 
board. Seated on a folded-up sack in the sole of the 
window, with a book in one hand and a penny candle 
stuck in a bottle near the other, I went to work for the 
amusement of the company. The baker was not 
particular as to subject. All he stipulated for was 
something comic and laughable. Aware of his tastes, I 
tried him first with the jocularities oi Roderick Random, 
which was a great success, and produced shouts of 
laughter. I followed this up with other works of 
Smollett, also with the novels of Fielding, and with 


Gil Bias ; the tricks and grotesque rogueries in this 
last-mentioned work of fiction giving the baker and his 
two sons unquaUfied satisfaction. My services as a 
reader for two and a half hours every morning were 
unfailingly recompensed by a donation of the antici- 
pated roll, with which, after getting myself brushed 
of the flour, I went on my way to shop-opening, lamp- 
cleaning, and all the rest of it, at Calton Street. It 
would be vain in the present day to try to discover the 
baker's work-shop, where these morning performances 
took place, for the whole of the buildings in this quarter 
have been removed to make way for the North British 
Railway station. 

Such, with minor variations, was my mode of life for 
several years — an almost ceaseless drudgery. At that 
period, there were no public institutions of a popular 
kind to stimulate and regulate plans of self-culture. 
The School of Arts, the precursor of mechanics' insti- 
tutions, was not set on foot until 182 1. Young persons 
in humble circumstances were still left to grope their 
way. They might spend their spare hours in study, if 
they had a mind ; nobody cared anything at all about 
it. Neither were young men, by the usages of business, 
allowed any time to carry out fancies as to mental 
improvement. Shop-hours extended from half-past 
seven o'clock in the morning till nine at night, with no 
abatement on Saturdays. Notions of mere amusement 
I did not dare to entertain. The Theatre Royal had 
its attractions, but expense, if nothing else, stood in the 
way. I had as yet been only once in the theatre. A 
friend of our family had treated me to the shilling- 
gallery, shortly after coming to Edinburgh ; it was to see 
John Kemble, who played Rollo — a subject of absorbing 


interest — and not for a number of years afterwards 
could I venture on any species of theatrical indulgence. 
In gracefully submitting to this self-denial, perhaps I 
had no great merit. So far as spare time was con- 
cerned, my mind had become occupied not only in the 
morning readings and study, but in sundry scientific 
experiments, to which I was led by James King, who 
was an apprentice to a seedsman next door. 

King was two to three years my senior, and I looked 
up to him on that account as well as for his general 
ability. He came from Fife, which is noted for the 
saliency and genius of its people. Our proximity to 
each other, and similarity of tastes, brought us into 
acquaintance. He had a younger brother, George, an 
apprentice to Mr Crombie, a well-known dyer, with 
whom I also became acquainted ; and when my brother 
Robert came to town to lodge with me, he was intro- 
duced to the circle. We formed, so to speak, a club of 
four lads, devoted to some species of scientific inquiry 
and recreation. The Kings were great upon chemistry. 
Their talk was of retorts, alkalies, acids, combustion, 
and oxygen gas, all which gave me a favourable opinion 
of their learning. They likewise spoke so familiarly 
of electricity, Leyden jars, and the galvanic pile, as to 
excite in me a desire to know something of these 
marvels. Chemistry and electricity became accordingly 
the subject of discussion and experiment; but the diffi- 
culty was to know where experiments could be con- 
ducted. My lodgings were out of the question. So 
were those of the Kings. They lived in a garret, 
situated immediately behind the well on the south side 
of the Grassmarket, which it was inexpedient to con- 
stitute a hall of science, and the notion of resorting to 

112 MEMOIR. 

it was given up. In this dilemma, a friendly and 
every way suitable retreat, which remains vividly in 
my recollections, presented itself, and was gratefully 

As you go up a narrow and steep road to the Calton 
Hill, at the foot of Leith Street, a covered passage 
descends and strikes off to the left, and conducts you 
to a confined court, wherein stood — and perhaps still 
stands — a small cottage with a tiled roof, that had to 
all appearance existed long before the streets with which 
it was environed. The back window in Calton Street, 
where I used to clean the lamps, looked into the court, 
and I could notice that the little old-fashioned cottage 
was occupied by a thin and aged personage with a 
bright-brown scratch-wig, who, in fine weather, made his 
appearance on the pavement as a common street-porter. 
The name by which he was kno\vn in the neighbourhood 
was Jamie Alexander. As voucher for his respectability, 
he wore on the left breast of his coat a pewter badge, 
marked No. 3, indicative of the early period at which he 
had been enrolled by the magistrates in the fraternity of 
porters ; and of this antiquity of his emblem of office 
he felt naturally proud; all other porters, however 
old, being boys in comparison, and not possessing that 
distinction of rank which he did. 

Jamie was a Highlander by birth, and in his youth, 
long ago, had been a servant to a Mr Tytier, a gentle- 
man of literary and scientific attainments, with whom 
he had travelled and seen the world, and in whose 
company he had picked up a smattering of learned 
ideas and words. With this grounding, and naturally 
handy, Jamie was a kind of Jack-of-all-trades. It was 
in his capacity of porter that King and I had become 


acquainted with him, but at his advanced age he relied 
more distinctly on less toilsome pursuits. The versa- 
tility of his talents rendered him peculiarly acceptable 
as an acquaintance, and his house was well adapted 
for our meetings. This ancient mansion consisted of 
only a single apartment : it was kitchen, parlour, bed- 
room, and workshop all in one — a queer and incongruous 
jumble, like the mind of the occupant 

Usually, at night, we found Jamie seated at one side 
of his fire, and his wife Janet, a more common-place 
character, at the other. Behind the old man was his 
work-bench, loaded with a variety of tools and odds 
and ends adapted to a leading branch of employment, 
which consisted in clasping broken china and crystal 
for the stoneware shops. This operation he performed 
with a neatness that surprised most persons, who knew 
that he had lost the sight of one of his eyes. It did not 
seem to be generally understood that Jamie had a 
contrivance satisfactory to himself for remedying this 
ocular deficiency. In his old pair of spectacles he fixed 
two glasses for the seeing eye, and he maintained that 
by this arrangement of a double lens, his single eye was 
as good to him as two — a point we did not think fit to 

To vary the routine of employment, and at the same 
time enjoy a little outdoor recreation, Jamie at times 
took a job from the undertakers. Dressed in a thread- 
bare black suit, he walked as a saulie before the higher 
class of funerals, with his hat under his arm, and the 
black velvet cap of a running-footman covering his 
brown wig. In connection with his profession of saulie, 
he related numerous traditionary anecdotes illustrative 
of the festivities of deceased saulie and gumfler men in 

114 MEMOIR. 

the servants-hall of great houses,* while waiting in 
lugubrious habiliments to head the funeral solemnity — 
his stories reminding one of the interspersal of scenes 
of drollery throughout the tragedies of Shakspeare, and 
I doubt not, true to nature. Besides these diverting 
reminiscences of grand funerals, he gave his experiences 
of grave-digging in the Calton burying-ground, where he 
often assisted. He confidendy stated that the digging 
of graves was a wonderfully exhilarating and healthful 
occupation, if executed with proper skill and leisure. 
Nothing, in his opinion, was so efficacious in assuaging 
a rheumatism in the back, or securing long life ; and to 
hear him on this subject, you would have thought it 
would be a good thing in the way of health and amuse- 
ment to take to regular exercise in grave-digging. It 
appeared that independently of payment for this kind 
of labour according to tariff, Jamie seldom left the 
ground without a few bits of old coffin in good 
condition, which had been thrown to the siuface in the 
course of excavation. Such pieces of wood, improved 
by seasoning in the earth, he said, excelled for some 
purposes of art. From them he made a common kind 
of fiddles, and also cheap wooden clocks. 

With much oddity of character, there was a fine spirit 
of industry, cheerfulness, and contentment in the old 
man. As a Highlander, he spoke Gaelic, and from him I 
learned to be tolerably proficient in pronouncing that test 
in the language, laogh, the word for calf. With a love of 
the ancient music of the hills, he played the bagpipe, 
but this instrument, from deficiency of breath, he had 

* Mutes bearing tall poles shrouded in black drapery are called 
in Scotland gumtler-men ; such being a corruption of gonfalonier, 
the bearer of a gonfalon, or standard, in old ceremonial processions. 


latterly laid aside, and taken to the Irish pipes, which are 
played by means of bellows under the arm. His pipes lay 
conveniently on a shelf over his work-bench, and taking 
them down, he, at our request, would favour us with a 
pibroch. Having finished the tune, he ordinarily delivered 
some oracular remarks on pipe-music in general, and 
of the operatic character of the pibroch in particular 
— the only time, by the way, I ever heard the thing 

Janet, the mistress of the mansion, did not greatly 
encourage our visits. Her chief concern in life seemed 
to consist in nursing a small and ingeniously made-up 
fire, which was apt to be seriously deranged by King's 
chemical experiments — such as the production of coal- 
gas in a blacking-bottle, used by way of retort — the 
proposal of lighting the city with gas having suggested 
this novel experiment. For a special reason, this old 
woman was not more favourable to electric science. 
Under King's advice and directions, my brother and I 
contrived, out of very poor resources, to procure a 
cylindrical electrifying-machine, with some apparatus to 
correspond. Having one night given Janet an electric 
shock, slily conveyed to her through a piece of damp 
tobacco, she ever after viewed the machine witli the 
darkest suspicions. In these apprehensions her gray cat 
had some reason to join ; when the Leyden jars were 
placed on the table, she fled to the roof of the bed, and 
there kept eyeing us during our mysterious incantations. 

Sunday, with its blessed exemption from a dull round 
of duties, came weekly with its soothing influences ; and 
this leads to a little explanation. I have already men- 
tioned that I was at home on Sunday. Through the week, 
I toiled at my proper duties. On the Sabbath, I was an 


independent being ; and to this day of rest I habitually 
looked forward, not only as an interval of repose, but 
for the opportunity it afforded of seeing and holding 
converse with my mother, betwixt whom and myself 
there was an attachment which has been the solace of 
my existence. Nothing was allowed to detain me in town. 
For several years, I walked home to the country every 
Saturday night. Between nine and ten o'clock, in all 
states of the weather, summer and winter, I might have 
been found making the best of my way down the North 
Back of the Canongate, past Holyrood, across the King's 
Park by Muschet's Cairn, and so on through Portobello. 
It was necessary not to loiter by the way, for, with a 
somewhat limited wardrobe, a few things which I carried 
with me had to be washed and otherwise prepared before 
midnight. In these night-travels, my brother Robert, 
while he remained in town, accompanied me. 

The Sundays spent on the shore of the Firth of 
Forth formed a refreshing change on the ordinary course 
of life. The salt-pans had ceased to send up their 
nauseous vapours and clouds of smoke. A pleasant and 
not uninstructive calm was experienced amidst the shell 
and tangle covered rocks, against which the pellucid 
waves of the sea dashed in unremitting murmurs. 
Usually, I went to Inveresk Church with other members 
of the family, and so became acquainted with Mussel- 
burgh and its environs. Sometimes I walked by a 
footpath across the fields by Brunstain and Millerhill 
to Dalkeith, to visit my grandmother, Mrs Noble, and 
her younger son David, who had recently been settled 
there (Robert, the elder son, having gone to Nova 
Scotia), and enjoyed the variety of accompanying them 
to the antique parish church of that pretty country town. 


There was an immense charm in these occasional 
Sabbath-day walks to Dalkeith, in which I usually 
carried a French New Testament in my pocket for 
lingual exercise. The sunshine, the calm that prevailed, 
the fresh air, the singing of birds, the green leafy trees, 
and the blossoming wild-flowers by the way-side, all 
filled my heart with gladness, for they renewed my 
recollections of the country. The fields, stuck about 
with coal-pits, at which the gin-horses had intermitted 
their accustomed toil, were not such pretty fields as 
I had seen on Tweedside ; still, they were environed 
with hedgerows, and formed a pleasing contrast to the 
huge rows of dingy buildings among which I pursued my 
ordinary employment. As a boy, I had passionately culti- 
vated flowers in a little garden assigned to me, and now 
rejoiced to see a few growing by the side of the pathway. 
The Mid-Lothian primroses, I imagined — considering 
the neighbourhood of the coal-pits — had not the fresh- 
ness and bloom of the primroses which I had gathered 
in the woods and dells at Neidpath ; but still they were 
primroses, and, as the best within reach, I plucked and 
carried home a handful as a gift to my mother in 
her dreary residence at the Pans, and was pleased to see 
her put them in a glass with a little water, to preserve 
as a souvenir of my weekly visit. 

The small smoke-dried community at these salt-pans 
was socially interesting. Along with the colliers in the 
neighbouring tiled hamlets, the salt-makers — at least 
the elderly among them — had at one time been serfs, 
and in that condition they had been legally sold along 
with the property on which they dwelt. I conversed 
with some of them on the subject. They and their 
children had been heritable fixtures to the spot They 


could neither leave at will nor change their profession. 
In short, they were in a sense slaves. I feel it to be 
curious that I should have seen and spoken to persons 
in this country who remembered being legally in a state 
of serfdom; and such they were until the year 1799, 
when an act of parliament abolished this last remnant 
of slavery in the British Islands. Appreciating the 
event, they set aside one day in the year as a festival 
commemorative of their liberation. Perhaps the custom 
of celebrating the day still exists. 

After these Sunday communings with the family, I 
was on Monday morning off again for Edinburgh to 
have a fresh tug at the shop-shutters — carrying away 
wth me, I need hardly say, all kinds of admonitory 
hints from my mother ; the burden of her recommenda- 
tions being to avoid low companions, to mind whom 
I was come of, and ' aye to baud forrit.' What was to 
become of me was, as she said, a perfect mystery ; still 
there was nothing like securing a good character in the 
meanwhile — that was clear, at all events. 

My mother, however, had more cause for uneasiness 
on her own than my account. The aspect of family 
affairs was acquiring additional gloom. My father was 
not the man for the situation he filled. In fact, he 
detested situations of all kinds. His rough and irri- 
table spirit of independence gave him a dislike to be 
ordered by anybody. His feelings at this period were 
in a morbid condition, the result of circumstances 
already adverted to, and therefore not to be judged 
severely. Having unfortunately failed in the means of 
acting an independent part, he was perhaps on that 
account the more anxious that his sons should be 
successful in making the attempt. At anyrate, he 


endeavoured to impress on rae the vast necessity and 
advantage of, in all things, thinking for myself, and 
taking, as far as possible, an independent course. He 
objected to my ever entertaining the notion of con- 
tinuing to serve any one after my apprenticeship had 
expired. No amount of salary was to tempt me ; no 
prospect of ease to seduce me. I should strike out ) \ 
for myself, if it were only to sell books in a basket : I 
from door to door. There might be suffering and 1 
humiliation in the meantime ; but I would be daily 1 
gaining experience, and, with prudence, accumulating I 
means. If I behaved myself properly, a few years I 
would set all to rights. 

These disquisitions amused and probably had some 
effect in inspiring me. My father had strong convic- 
tions as to the propriety of allowing children to think 
and struggle for themselves ; such, as he conveniently 
thought, being true kindness, and anything else little 
better than cruelty — and strictly speaking, he was right 
Seated in his arm-chair at the Pans, with two or three 
of us about him, he would discourse in a pleasant way, 
mingling anecdote \vith philosophy — the purport of tlie 
whole being that I should continue to cultivate a spirit 
of independence, to learn to act and think for myself, 
and, in short, to be thankful that nothing was done 
for me. 

Such was the run of my father's disquisitions. Unfor- 
tunately, his extreme views of independence did not 
comport with his functions as manager of the salt-works, 
where he suff"ered a species of ignominious banishment 
Among the near neighbours were a few excise-ofiiccrs 
set to watch over the works and give permits to pur- 
chasers. One of these officials was a Mr Stobie, in 


whom there was a degree of interest ; for, while in the 
position of an expectant of Excise, he had done duty 
for Robert Burns in his last illness, April 1796, when, 
as the poet says in a letter to Thomson : ' Ever since I 
wrote you last, I have only known existence by the 
pressure of the heavy hand of sickness, and have 
counted time by the repercussions of pain.' It redounded 
to the honour of Stobie that he acted gratuitously for 
Burns at this melancholy crisis, and it was pleasing for 
our family to make his acquaintance, and hear some 
particulars of the greatest among Scottish poets. 

Beyond such acquaintanceships, there was little to 
compensate for the smoke, dirt, and misery that were 
endured at the Pans. The business in itself violated 
all my father's notions of propriety. It consisted 
almost wholly in supplying material for a contraband 
trade across the Border to England ; the high duties 
on salt in the latter country rendering this a profitable 
traffic. Purchased in large quantities at Joppa and 
other salt-works, the bags were transferred in carts to 
Newcastleton in Liddesdale, where the article was 
stored by a dealer, and sold by him to be smuggled 
across the fells during the night. For years, this was 
a great trade. Perhaps it did not pertain to the Scotch 
salt-makers to urge the extinction of so flourishing a 
traffic ; but neither could any one of susceptible feelings 
look on it with perfect complacency. 

Whatever were the precise causes of discord, a dis- 
ruption was precipitated by my father having the mis- 
fortune to be waylaid and robbed of some money which 
he had collected in the way of business in Edinburgh. 
Knocked down and grievously bruised about the head, 
he was found late at night lying helpless on the road, 


and brought home by some good Samaritan. The pain- 
ful circumstances connected with this untoward affair 
led to his being discharged from his office. In his now 
hapless state, gready disabled by the injuries which he 
had received, and without means, the consideration of 
everything fell on my mother. Her mind rose to the 
occasion. Removing from the sooty precinct to one of 
a row of houses near Magdalene Bridge, on the road to 
Musselburgh, she prepared to set on foot a small busi- 
ness, and was not without hope of meeting with general 
sympathy and support, for, by her agreeable manners 
and exemplary conduct under various difficulties, she 
had made some good friends of different classes in the 

With something like dismay, I heard of this fresh 
disaster — the climax, it was to be hoped, of a series 
of agonising misfortunes. The house at the Pans had 
been about the most revolting of human habitations, 
but it at least gave shelter, and bore with it some means 
of livelihood. Now, all that was at an end. The future 
was to be a matter of new contrivance. Of course, I 
hastened from town to condole over present distresses, 
and share in the family counsels. On my unexpected 
arrival near midnight — cold, wet, and wayworn — all was 
silent in that poor home. In darkness by my mother's 
bed-side, I talked with her of the scheme she had 
projected. It was little I could do. Some insignificant 
savings were at her disposal, and so was a windfLill over 
which I had cause for rejoicing. By a singular piece of 
good fortune, I had the previous day been presented 
with half a guinea by a good-hearted tradesman, 
on being sent to him with the agreeable intelligence 
that he had got the sixteenth of a twenty thousand 

£22 MEMOIR. 

pound prize in the state lottery. The little bit of gold 
was put into my mother's hand. With emotion too 
great for words, my own hand was pressed gratefully in 
return. The loving pressure of that unseen hand in 
the midnight gloom, has it not proved more than the 
ordinary blessing of a mother on her son? 

' All this, still legible in memory's page, 
And still to be so to my latest age, 
Adds joy to duty, makes me glad to pay 
Such honours to thee as my numbers may ; 
Perhaps a frail memorial, but sincere — 
Not scorned in heaven, though little noticed here.' 

Early in the following morning, I was back to busi- 
ness in Calton Street. My mother's ingenious efforts, 
conducted with consummate tact, and wholly regardless 
of toil, were successful. Her only embarrassment was 
my father, prematurely broken down in body and mind. 
It is not the purpose, however, of the present memoir 
to pursue the family history. Let us revert to the 
leading object in hand. 


Robert's early difficulties — 1814 to 1819. 

TT will be necessary to go back a little, in order to 
■*■ trace the difficulties that were encountered by 
Robert in the early part of his career, while I was still 
following out the duties of an apprentice. 

The family depression during this gloomy period was 
felt more acutely by my brother than by myself, for, 
besides being more susceptible in feelings, he was, from 
his gentle and retiring habits, less able to face the stern 
realities with which we were unitedly environed. Left, 
as has been said, for a time in Peebles to pursue his 
studies at the grammar-school, he was finally brought to 
Edinburgh, and placed at a noted classical academy — 
that of Mr Benjamin Mackay, in West Register Street, 
preparatory to being (if possible) sent to the university. 
There was an understanding in the family that, as the 
most suitable professional pursuit, he was to be prepared 
for the church. The expenses attending on this course 
of education were considerably beyond present capa- 
bilities, but all was to be smoothed over by a bur- 
sary, of which a distant relative held out some vague 

124 MEMOIR. 

When the family quitted Edinburgh, Robert accom- 
panied them, but shortly afterwards, with a considerable 
strain on finances, he was associated with me in my 
West Port lodgings. Here, from the uncongenial habits 
with which he was brought in contact, he felt consider- 
ably out of place. I was fortunately absent during the 
greater part of the day in my accustomed duties ; but 
he, after school hours, had to rely on such refuge as 
could be found at the unattractive fireside of our land- 
lady, who, though disposed to be kind in her way, was 
so chilled by habits of penury as to give little consider- 
ation for the feelings of the poor scholar. He spoke to 
me of his sufferings and the efforts he made to assuage 
them. The want of warmth was his principal dis- 
comfort. Sometimes benumbed with cold, he was glad 
to adjourn to that ever hospitable retreat, the Old 
Tolbooth, where, like myself, he was received as a 
welcome visitor by the West-Enders; and it is not 
unworthy of being mentioned, that the oddities of char- 
acter among these unfortunate, though on the whole 
joyous, prisoners, and their professional associates — 
not forgetting Davie — formed a fund of recollection on 
which he afterwards drew for literary purposes. That 
strange old prison, with its homely arrangements, was 
therefore to him, as to me, identified with early asso- 
ciations — a thing the remembrance of which became 
to both a subject of life-long amusement. There was 
also some exhilaration for him in occasionally attending 
the nightly book auctions, where, favoured with light 
and warmth, seated in a by-comer, he could study his 
lessons, as well as derive a degree of entertainment from 
the scene which was presented. A further source of 
evening recreation, but not till past nine o'clock, and 


then only for an hour, was found in those meetings with 
the brothers King and myself for mutual scientific 

Viewed apart from these solacements, his life was 
dreary in the extreme. Half-starved, unsympathised 
with, and looking for no comfort at home, he probably 
would have lost heart but for the daily exercises at 
school, where he stood as rival and class-fellow of 
Mackay's best pupils. A good Latinist considering his 
years, and appreciative of wit and humour, he had an 
immense love of the odes and satires of Horace, nor 
was he scarcely a less admirer of the classic myths of 
Virgil, for they touched on that chord of romance and 
legendary lore which vibrated in his own mental con- 
stitution. Besides studying these classics, he took a 
fancy for the metamorphoses and fluent versification of 
Ovid, and was entranced ^vith the story-telling power of 
Livy, the most illustrious of the Roman historians. In 
Greek he made only a small progress. 

At this time he began to compose verses both in 
English and Latin, a kind of exercise which, not 
being required in the routine of study, was altogether 
a work of supererogation. The taste for Latin versifi- 
cation was due to a somewhat strange cause. Con- 
ceiving an enthusiasm for Ovid's poetical theories of 
the metempsychosis, he endeavoured to emulate the 
original by writing verses similarly fanciful ; and not 
only so, but he fervently embraced the principle of the 
Pythagoreans, as regards the impropriety of using animal 
food — a principle very unnecessary to insist upon while 
residing in our West Port lodgings. The notion was, of 
course, a boyish freak, which in due time wore off; but 
that he entertained it at school with the vehemence of 


126 MEMOIR. 

an ancient disciple of Pythagoras, indicates the intensity 
of his early convictions. In his efforts at Latin versi- 
fication in the Ovidian style, he was sorely hampered by 
the want of books of reference, to which his better 
provided companions had access. He was in particular 
put to considerable straits for want of an English-Latin 
dictionary, in order to ascertain the best Latin equiva- 
lents for certain words in his own language. The 
difficulty was in a degree ingeniously got over by visiting 
a book-stall, on which conveniently lay for sale a copy 
of Ainsworth's dictionary. This, without challenge, he 
continued to consult several times a day, and was 
delighted to find the Latin words he stood in need of. 
From the benefit derived by these investigations he in 
after-years never saw the stall-keeper without feeling 
how much he was indebted to him for the use of his 

With all this plodding industry, Robert found time to 
indulge in another kind of explorations. Ever since 
his arrival in Edinburgh, and without suggestion from 
any one, he had taken a pleasure in examining, at fitting 
times, what was ancient and historically interesting in 
the Old Town, which, for tastes of this kind, presents 
a peculiarly comprehensive field of inquiry. Once 
crowded within defensive walls, the older part of the 
city remained a dense cluster of tall dark buildings, 
lining the central street and diverging lanes, or closes, 
with comparatively little change in exterior aspect. 
However altered as regards the quality of the dwellers 
on the difterent floors, the tenements still exhibited 
innumerable artistic and heraldic tokens of the past ; 
nor were the environs of the town less illustrative of 
moving incidents of the olden time. To this huge 


antiquarian preserve, as it might be called, with its varied 
legends, my brother immediately attached himself with 
the fervour of a first love, for so enduring was it as 
materially to tinge the rest of his existence. 

Patiently ranging up one close and down another, 
ascending stairs, and poking into obscure courts, he 
took note of carvings over doorways, pondered on the 
structure of old gables and windows, examined risps — 
the antique mechanism which had answered the purpose 
of door-knockers ; and extending the scoi)e of his 
researches, scarcely a bit of Arthur's Seat or the Braid 
Hills was left unexplored. The Borough-moor, where 
James IV. marshalled his army before marching to the 
fatal field of Flodden ; the ' bore-stone,' in which, on 
that occasion, was planted the royal standard — 

'The staff, a pine tree, strong and stiaiglit, 
Pitched deeply in a massive stone. 
Which still in memory is she^vn, 

Yet bent beneath the standard's weight 
Whene'er the western wind unrolled, 
With toil, the huge and cumbrous fold, 
And gave to view the dazzling field, 
Where in proud Scotland's royal shield. 
The ruddy lion ramped in gold.' 

— Marmion. 

Royston, where the Earl of Hertford landed with an 
English army, and proceeded to set fire to and destroy 
Edinburgh; the spot at the Kirk of Field, where Darnley 
was blown up; the tomb of the Earl of Murray; the 
grassy mounds in Bruntsfield Links, which formed the 
relics of Cromwell's batteries when besieging the castle 
after the victory of Dunbar ; the grave-stone in the 
Grcyfriars Churchyard on which, in 1638, was signed 
the National Covenant ; the adjoining enclosure, in 

128 MEMOIR. 

which, for a time, was pent up, like cattle, the crowd of 
prisoners taken at the battle of Bothwell Bridge; the 
closed-up postern of the castle surmounting the pre- 
cipitous rocks up which Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, 
clambered to confer with the governor (and how he got 
either up or down no one can tell), when setting out 
for his last field, Killiecrankie ; these, and such like 
historical memorials, became all familiar to my brother 
by making good use of intervals that could be spared 
from his daily attendance at the academy. 

Though only twelve months had elapsed since he 
came from the country, and not yet fourteen years of 
age, he already possessed a knowledge of things con- 
cerning the old city and its romantic history which many, 
it may be supposed, do not acquire in the course of a 
lifetime. While most other youths, his school-mates, 
gave themselves up to amusements not unbecoming to 
their age, his recreations had in them all something of 
the nature of instruction. And such were his extra- 
ordinary powers of memory, that whatever he saw or 
learned, he never forgot; everything which could 
interest the mind being treasured up as a fund of 
delightful recollections, ready to be of service when 

At the academy were a few boys, the sons of citizens, 
who indulged in fancies not unlike his own, and with 
whom he formed a lasting friendship. They could tell 
legendary stories of marvellous events in the city annals, 
connected with reputed wizards, noted eccentric char- 
acters, and remarkable criminals, to which he listened 
with avidity — as, for example, the story of Major Weir, 
who, for the commission of a series of atrocities, was 
condemned and executed in 1670, and whose house in 


the West Bow enjoyed the reputation of being so much 
under the dominion of evil spirits, that no person would 
live in it for more than a hundred years afterwards ; — Or 
the story of Deacon Brodie, a man moving in a good 
position, who, having long secretly carried on a system 
of depredations, was ultimately condemned and executed 
for committing a burglary on the Excise Office, 1788; — 
Or the still more curious story of a lad who, while under 
sentence of death in the Old Tolbooth, escaped by a 
clever device of his father, and lay for weeks concealed 
in the mausoleum of the 'Bluidy Mackenyie,' where he 
was secretly supplied with food by the boys of Heriot's 
Hospital, till he escaped from the country. 

By these varied means in his early youth, in the midst 
of difficulties, Robert laid the foundation of much that 
was afterwards of value in literature; although at the 
time he was only satisfying a natural craving for what 
was traditionally curious. Looking back to the days 
when we lived together in the West Port, I cannot 
recollect that he ever spent a moment in what was 
purely amusing, or of no practical avail. Nor was this 
a sacrifice. The acquisition of knowledge was with him 
the highest of earthly enjoyments. It was well for him 
that he had these soothing resources. What his trials 
were at this time may be learned from the following 
passages in a letter written by him, in 1829, to the 
young lady to whom he was shortly afterwards married : 

' My brother William and I lived in lodgings together. 
Our room and bed cost three shilHngs a week. It was 
in the West Port, near Burke's place. I cannot under- 
stand how I should ever have lived in it. The woman 
who kept the lodgings was a Peebles woman, who knew 
and wished to be kind to us. She was, however, of a 


very narrow disposition, partly the result of poverty. I 
used to be in great distress for want of fire. I could 
not afibrd either that or candle myself. So I have often 
sat beside her kitchen fire — if fire it could be called, 
which was only a little heap of embers — reading Horace 
and conning my dictionary by a light which required me 
to hold the books almost close to the grate. What a 
miserable winter that was ! Yet I cannot help feeling 
proud of my trials at that time. My brother and I — 
he then between fifteen and sixteen, I between thirteen 
and fourteen — had made a resolution together that we 
would exercise the last degree of self-denial. My brother 
actually saved money off his income. I remember 
seeing him take five-and-twenty shillings out of a closed 
box which he kept to receive his savings; and that was 
the spare money of only a twelvemonth. I daresay the 
Potterrow itself never sheltered two divinity students of 
such abstinent habits as ours. My father's prospects 
blackened towards the end of the winter; and even the 
small cost of my board and lodging at length became 
too much for him. I then for some time spent the 
night at Joppa Pans, and regularly every morning walked, 
lame as I was, to Edinburgh to attend school. Through 
all these distresses, I preserved the best of health, 
though perhaps my long fasts at so critical a period of 
life repressed my growth. A darker period than even 
this ensued : my father lost his situation, and I was 
withdrawn from a course of learning which it was seen 
I should never be able to complete.' 

Such is a fair account of the termination of Robert's 
educational career. It can be supplemented from my 
own recollections, as well as from some memoranda 
which he wrote regarding this early period. When, 


after a due preparation at the academy of Mr ISIackay 
(whose kindness was ever gratefully remembered by 
my brother), the time came for attending the univer- 
sity, for which a bursary had been vaguely antici- 
pated, expectations of the bursary came to naught, 
and all pecuniary means were now in a state of lament- 
able exhaustion. Yet, to the last, Robert was buoyed 
up with a hope that he would somehow be advanced to 
the Humanity class in the college. His awakening from 
this fond dream was correspondingly disapi)ointing. 
The way in which, as an enthusiastic scholar, he was 
restrained by poverty from going through a university 
course is painfully depicted : 

'Till the college opened, it was fully intended that I 
should go to it ; and accordingly, when the day arrived, I 
proceeded to that illustrious seminary of learning, along 
with other boys who ranked with me at Mackay's, and 
was present at the inaugural meeting of the Humanity 
class for the season. The fees, however, were found an 
insurmountable difficulty; and with feelings I shall not 
ailcmpt to describe, I was obliged to turn back from a 
course in which I saw so many of my companions about 
to start, with every advantage in their favour, though I 
was sensible that hardly any of them cared so much for 
the pleasure of the race, or w^as so ambitious of its 
eventual honours as myself.' Continuing for a short time 
at the academy, he adds: 'At length, in the month of 
April or May 1S16, I (quitted school for ever, my 
parents having perceived that, since I was not to go 
forward in a learned ])rofessional career, it was neces- 
sary that 1 should ai)ply decidedly and inmiediately to 
something else.' 

At this sad downcome, there was mourning over the 

132 MEMOIR. 

ruin of long-cherished hopes; and yet the circumstance 
ought in reahty to have been a cause for rejoicing. I 
greatly doubt if my brother would, according to ordinary 
expectations, ever have excelled as a clergyman. He 
was deficient in oratorical qualities, nor did he possess 
to a sufficient degree that self-possession which is 
indispensable to a successful public speaker. Nature 
had destined him to wield the pen, not to live by 
exercise of the tongue. In the meanwhile, he was 
gready downcast. Returning home, his privations were 
now greater than my own, for they were aggravated by 
the spectacle of domestic troubles, from which, except at 
weekly intervals, I was happily exempt. 

Depressed, and it might be said friendless, with only 
his Horace and a few other Latin books, over which he 
would pore lovingly for hours, he was at this painful 
juncture not unconscious that he should make some 
sort of effort at self-reliance. He could arrive at no 
other conviction. In the picturesque language of the 
Psalmist, his 'kinsmen stood afar off,' a circumstance 
which unhappily roused feelings much more bitter than 
any experienced in my own less delicately framed 
mental system. Sometimes wandering about with a 
sense of desolation, he abandoned himself to an agony 
of grief and despair. 

For a brief space, he procured a little private teaching 
at Portobello. Afterwards, a place was procured for him 
in the counting-house of a merchant, who resided in 
Pilrig Street, situated between Edinburgh and Leith; 
but this involved a journey on foot to and fro daily of 
altogether ten miles, with the poorest possible requital. 
At the end of six months this employment came to 
an end, and for a icw weeks he filled a similar 


situation in Mitchell Street, Leith. * From that place,' 
he says, in the letter above referred to, * I was discharged, 
for no other reason that I can think of but that my 
employer thought me too stupid to be likely ever to do 
him any good. I was now in the miserable situation of 
a youth betwixt fifteen and sixteen, who, having passed 
the proper period without acquiring the groundwork of 
a profession, is totally hors de combat, and has the 
prospect of evermore continuing so. I was now, how- 
ever, at the bottom of the wheel. Now came the time 
to rise. You have already some notion of my self- 
denial and fortitude of mind. Now came the time to 
exert all my faculties.' He then alludes to circum- 
stances of which I am able to give a more explicit 

At this dismal period, when, as he says, he was ' at 
the bottom of the wheel,' I saw him only on Sundays, 
and it was on such occasions alone that we had an 
opportunity for private consultation. On one of these 
Sabbath evenings, we sat down together in deep cogita- 
tion on a grassy knoll overlooking the Firth and the 
distant shores of Fife. The scene, placid and beautiful, 
befitting the calm which seemed appropriate to the 
day of rest, assorted ill with the pressure of those 
personal necessities that demanded immediate and fur 
from pleasant consideration. Jeremy Taylor has con- 
solingly remarked, that ' there is no man but hath 
blessings enough in present possession to outweigh the 
evils of a great afiliction.' It may be so. I have no 
doubt it is so. How the blessings are to be recog- 
nised and brought into practical application, is some- 
times the difficulty. In Robert's case, the blessings 
might have been stated as consisting of youth, healtli, 

134 MEMOIR. 

a fair education, moral and intellectual culture, and 
aspirations which embraced an earnest resolution to 
outweigh by honest industry the misfortunes into which 
he had been plunged by no fault of his own. Evidently, 
all depended on his being put on the right path. The 
great question for solution was what he should do, not 
only for his own subsistence, but to disembarrass the 
family, in which he acutely felt himself to be in the light 
of an encumbrance. 

This was the critical moment that determined my 
brother's career. I had for some days been pondering 
on a scheme which might possibly help him out of his 
difficulties, provided he laid aside all ideas of false shame, 
and unhesitatingly followed my directions. The project 
was desperate, but nothing short of desperate measures 
was available. My suggestion was, that, abandoning 
all notions of securing employment as a clerk, teacher, 
or anything else, and stifling every emotion which had 
hitherto buoyed him up, he should, in the humblest 
possible style, begin the business of a bookseller. The 
idea of such an enterprise had passed through his own 
mind, but had been laid aside as wild and ridiculous, 
for he possessed neither stock nor capital, nor could he 
have recourse to any one to lend him assistance. ' I 
have thought of all that,' I said, ' and will shew you how 
the thing is to be done.' I now explained that in the 
family household there were still a number of old books, 
which had been dragged about from place to place, and 
were next to useless. The whole, if ranged on a shelf, 
would occupy about twelve feet, with perhaps a foot 
additional by including Horace and other school-books. 
They were certainly not much worth, but, if oftered for 
sale, they might, as I imagined, form the foundation on 


which a business could be constructed. I added that 
there was at the time an opening for the sale of cheap 
pocket Bibles, respecting which I could aid by my 
knowledge of the trade, and even go the length of 
starting him with one or two copies out of my slender 

The project being turned over and over and canvassed, 
proved acceptable. My father, so far from having any 
objections, assented to the scheme. The old books, 
Horace and all, were collected and carried off, the only 
one left being an old tattered black-letter Bible, of the 
date 1606, that had been in the family for two hundred 
years, and which, with scribblings on the blank pages, 
formed a kind of register of births, deaths, and mar- 
riages during that lengthened period. Too sacred to be 
ruthlessly made an article of commerce, it was fortu- 
nately reserved, and in due time became my only 

With the few old books so collected, Robert began 
business in 18 18, when only sixteen years of age, from 
which time he became self-supporting, as I had been 
several years earlier. I should have hesitated to men- 
tion these particulars of my brother's early career, but 
for the fact of his having, in a letter to his friend Hugh 
Miller, dated March i, 1854, and published in the Life 
and Letters of that person (1871), given an account, 
which, as a candid revelation of his own feelings, is fully 
more painful. 

Writing to Miller, he says : * Your autobiography has 
set me a-thinking of my own youthful clays, which were 
like yours in point of hardship and humiliation, tliough 
different in many important circumstances. My being 
of the same age with you, to exactly a cjuarter of a year, 

136 MEMOIR. 

brings the idea of a certain parity more forcibly upon 
me. The differences are as curious to me as the resem- 
blances. Notwithstanding your wonderful success as a 
writer, I think my literary tendency must have been a 
deeper and more absorbing peculiarity than yours, seeing 
that I took to Latin and to books both keenly and 
exclusively, while you broke down in your classical 
course, and had fully as great a passion for rough sport 
and enterprise as for reading, that being again a passion 
of which I never had one particle. This has, however, 
resulted in making you, what I never was inclined to 
be, a close observer of external nature — an immense 
advantage in your case. Still I think I could present 
against your hardy field observations by firth and 
fell, and cave and cliff, some striking analogies in the 
finding out and devouring of books, making my way, 
for instance, through a whole chestful of the Eficyclo- 
pcedia Britannica, which I found in a lumber garret 
I must also say, that an unfortunate tenderness of feet, 
scarcely yet got over, had much to do in making me 
mainly a fireside student. As to domestic connections 
and conditions, mine being of the middle classes, were 
superior to yours for the first twelve years. After that, 
my father being unfortunate in business, we were 
reduced to poverty, and came down to even humbler 
things than you experienced. I passed through some 
years of the direst hardship, not the least evil being a 
state of feeling quite unnatural in youth — a stern and 
burning defiance of a social world in which we were 
harshly and coldly treated by former friends, difl'ering 
only in external respects from ourselves. In your life 
there is one crisis where I think your experiences must 
have been somewhat like mine ; it is the brief period at 


Inverness. Some of your expressions there bring all 
my own early feelings again to life. A disparity 
betAveen the internal consciousness of powers and 
accomplishments and the external ostensible aspect, 
led in me to the very same wrong methods of setting 
myself forward as in you. There, of course, I meet 
you in warm sympathy. I have sometimes thought of 
describing my bitter painful youth to the world, as 
something in which it might read a lesson; but the 
retrospect is still too distressing. I screen it from the 
mental eye. The one grand fact it has impressed is 
the very small amount of brotherly assistance there is 
for the unfortunate in this world. . . . Till I proved 
that I could help myself, no friend came to me. 
Uncles, cousins, &c., in good positions in life — some of 
them stoops of kirks, by-the-bye — not one offered, or 
seemed inclined to give, the smallest assistance. The 
consequent defying, self-relying spirit in which, at 
sixteen, I set out as a bookseller, with only my own 
small collection of books as a stock — not worth more 
than two pounds, I believe — led to my being quickly 
independent of all aid ; but it has not been all a gain, 
for I am now sensible that my spirit of self-reliance 
too often manifested itself in an unsocial, unamiable 
light, while my recollections of " honest poverty " may 
have made me too eager to attain and secure worldly 

The place at whicli Robert attempted the adventurous 
project of selling the wreck of the family library, along 
with his own small parcel of school-books, was Leith 
Walk, where a shop of a particularly humble kind, at a 
yearly rent of six pounds, with space for a stall in front, 
was procured for the purpose. The situation of this 

138 MEMOIR. 

unpretending place of business was opposite Pilng 
Avenue. Here he may be said to have set up house, 
for, provided with a few articles of furniture, and exer- 
cising a rigorous frugality, he proposed to live in his 
very limited establishment. To keep him company, 
and aid by my professional advice, as well as lessen his 
expenses, I went to reside with him — quitting, with my 
blue painted box, my quarters in the West Port, for 
which I entertained no special attachment. Unless for 
the pleasure of associating with my brother, and talking 
over our plans, the change did not immediately bring 
any assuagement of condition. So miserably was the 
place furnished, that the first night we had no bed, but ■ 
lay on the floor, with a rug for covering, and a bundle 
of books for pillow. Afterwards, a bed stuffed with 
chaff made things a little easier, and, rolled up during 
the day, the bed with its rug answered as a convenient 
sofa. Rather a hard kind of life this ! In one sense it 
was so, but I cannot remember ever caring much about 
the hardship. The whole affair was treated as an 
amusing adventure. The very shifts we were put to 
had in them something to laugh at. There was likewise 
an undefined but comforting feeling that by endurance 
matters would mend, and so with modest trust, as 
yielding to our lot, we cheerfully submitted to present 
privations. The time was near at hand when I should 
more than ever have to exercise a thoughtful degree of 



T ATE on a Saturday evening in May 181 9, my 
^-^ apprenticeship came to a close, and I walked 
away with five shillings in my pocket — to which sum 
my weekly wages had been latterly and considerately 
advanced. My employer, to do him every justice, 
offered to retain me as assistant at a reasonable salary; 
but I liked as little to remain as to try my luck else- 
where as a subordinate. Whether influenced by my 
father's harangues about indei)en(lcnce, or by my own 
natural instincts, I had formed the resolution to be my 
own master, and concluded that the sooner I was so the 
better. And so, at nineteen years of age, I was left to 
my shifts. 

The exploit was somewhat hazardous, and unless on 
special grounds, I would not recommend it to be 
followed. Society is composed of employers and 
employed. All cannot be masters. The employed may 
happen to be the best off of the two ; at all events, they 
are burdened with less responsibility. My resolution, 
therefore, to fight my way, inch by inch, entirely on my 
own account, was, I acknowledge, an eccentricity. Yet, 
who can lay down any precise rule on this point ? 

140 MEMOIR. 

Looking at all available circumstances, every one must 
think for himself, and take the consequences. In the 
ordinary view of affairs, my prospects were not particu- 
larly cheering. Exclusive of the five shillings in ray 
pocket, I was without any pecuniary reliance whatsoever. 
There were, however, some things in my favour. As in 
my brother's case, I had youth, health, hope, resolution, 
and was as free from expensive habits and tastes as 
from any species of embarrassing obligation. There 
was nothing to keep me back, unless it might be the 
comparatively narrow scope for individual exertion in 
our northern capital. At that time, however, I knew 
nothing personally of London and its illimitable field of 
operation. The best had to be made of what was 
within reach. Fortunately, I continued still to have 
no acquaintances whom it was necessary to consult — 
had no giddy companions, who would have been ready 
enough to jeer me out of schemes of humble self- 
reliance. I had no dread of losing caste, because I had 
no artificial position to lose; and as for losing self- 
respect, that entirely depends on conduct and the 
motives by which it is influenced. It will be seen that 
I was not without the kind of ambition which is indis- 
pensable to success. On that very account, I treated all 
immediate difficulties, or humiliations, as of no moment. 
Circumstances concurred to get me over the first step, 
which is always the most difficult. The success of my 
brother in his enterprise pointed out a line of business 
that might with advantage be followed. As Leith Walk 
happens to be identified in an amusing way with his as 
well as my own early career, I may say a few words 
respecting it, although at the risk of teUing what may be 
generally known. 


Leith Walk may be described as a broad kind of 
Boulevard, stretching nearly a mile in length between 
Edinburgh and the seaport, and as being constantly used 
as a thoroughfare by merchants, clerks, strangers, and sea- 
faring people. In the early years of the present century, 
it was the daily resort of a multiplicity of odd-looking 
dependents on public charity — such as old blind fiddlers, 
seated by the wayside ; sailors deficient in a leg or an 
arm, with long queues hanging down their backs, who 
were always singing ballads about sea-fights ; and cripples 
of various sorts, who contrived to move along in wooden 
bowls, or in low-wheeled vehicles drawn by dogs — all 
which personages reckoned on reaping a harvest of 
coppers in the week of Leith races — that great annual 
festival of the gamins of Edinburgh, which has been 
commemorated in the humorous verses of Robert 
Fergusson. Besides its hosts of mendicants, the Walk 
was garnished with small shops for the sale of shells, 
corals, and other foreign curiosities. It was also pro- 
vided with a number of petty public-houses ; but its 
greatest attraction was a show of wax-work, at the 
entrance of which sat the figure of an old gentleman 
in a court-dress, intently reading a newsjmper, which, 
without turning over the leaves, had occupied him for 
the last ten years. 

The oddest thing about the Walk, however, was an 
air of pretension singularly inconsistent with the reality. 
The signboards oft'ercd a study of the definite article — 
The Comb Manufactory, The Chair Manufactory, The 
Marble Work, and so forth, appearing on the fronts of 
buildings of the most tnimpery character. At the time 
I became acquainted with the Walk, it owned few 
edifices that were much wortla. Here and there, with 


142 MEMOIR. 

intervening patches of nursery-grounds and gardens, 
there was a detached villa or a row of houses with 
flower-plots in front. But the majority of the buildings 
were of a slight fabric of brick and plaster, with tiled 
roofs, as if the whole were removable at a day's notice. 
There being no edifices, however mean and incon- 
venient, which do not find inhabitants, these frail tene- 
ments were in demand by a needy order of occupants, 
whose ultimate limit in the article of rent was ten to 
twelve pounds a year — fifteen a little beyond the thing 
— twenty not to be thought of. 

It was one of these temporary and unattractive build- 
ings situated, as has been said, opposite Pilrig Avenue, 
that had been rented by my brother, and it was there I 
joined him in housekeeping, with nothing to keep but 
the disconsolate walls and about ten shillings worth of 
furniture, and at first, as has been said, scarcely a bed to 
lie on. In 1819, Robert had to quit, in consequence of 
the proprietor making repairs on the row of buildings, 
and he removed farther down the Walk, to the street- 
floor of a pile of buildings of a superior class, with 
families of a respectable kind dwelling in the floors 

The alterations on Giles's Buildings, as they were 
called, which Robert had quitted, were just completed 
when I stood in need of some place where I could make 
my first venture in business. Such a place I found 
almost on the spot my brother had vacated. It was on 
the east side of the Walk, immediately opposite the 
avenue to Pilrig House, a fine double row of old trees 
now superseded by a street. The changes that had 
been effected partook of the usual character of the 
neighbourhood — shabby pretension. The proprietor, a 


builder in Edinburgh, had accumulated a number of old 
shop-doors and windows, which, dismissed as unfashion- 
able and out of date, suited the locality, and gave a 
genteel finish to the new fronts that were stuck up along 
the row of mean brick edifices. Here was the shop I 
selected — a place of very moderate dimensions, not 
more than twelve feet square. For it I was to pay an 
annual rent of ten pounds ; the possibility of my paying 
any such sum being, I own, somewhat visionary. Hope, 
however, was in the ascendant. 

Without stock, capital, or shop furniture, my attempt 
at beginning business would almost seem like trymg to 
make something out of nothing. I admit, the problem 
was difficult of solution. In one respect, it was fortu- 
nate in the way of example that Robert had begun first, 
but in another it was a disadvantage. In setting up, 
he had cleared my father's house of all its old books, 
which, though not many in number, or of great value, 
still bore bulk so far, and, giving a face to things, served 
for a not positively bad beginning. Coming later into 
the field, nothing was left for me to lay hands on in the 
like predatory fashion. I should doubtless, as a last 
resource, have procured a portion of Robert's stock of 
books, which, in the course of a year, had increased by 
his industry to be worth above twenty pounds, but, by a 
remarkably happy turn of events, I did not need to 
encroach on his painfully accumulated property. 

During the first week of my freedom, there arrived 
in Edinburgh a travelling agent for an enterprising 
publisher in London. He had come to exhibit to the 
Scottish booksellers specimens of cheap editions of 
standard and popular works. Until within a short time 
previously, editions of the works of Johnson, Gibbon, 

144 MEMOIR. 

Robertson, Blair, Hume and Smollett, Bums, and other 
standard writers, had been a monopoly of certain pub- 
lishers, who united to publish them, and gave them the 
imposing name of 'Trade Editions.' Long out of copy- 
right, these works were public property, and could legally 
be printed and issued by any one, but not until now 
had any one had the audacity and enterprise to disregard 
the assumed etiquette of the profession, and print and 
sell editions on his own account. In daring to break 
down this monopoly, the publisher I refer to encountered 
some abuse, which, however, did not deter him in his 
operations. His editions, as a rule, were not so highly 
finished as those issued under the auspices of the trade ; 
but as they were sold at about half the price, they were 
correspondingly appreciated by that portion of the book- 
buying world who are not scrupulously nice as to 
typographical elegance. 

This active personage (Mr Thomas Tegg, Cheapside) 
had another and quite as successful a branch of business. 
It consisted in purchasing, wholesale, the remainders of 
editions which hung on the hands of publishers, and of 
issuing copies at a cheap price under new attractions, 
such as a portrait frontispiece and a fresh exterior, by 
which means two important ends were served — the 
shelves of the publishers were relieved of much dead 
stock, and the public were satisfied. 

It was Richard Griffin, the agent of this tradesman, 
who, by a singular accident, fell in my way. In con- 
cluding his business tour, he had arrived in Edinburgh 
to hold a trade-sale previous to proceeding to London. 
A trade-sale, as it may be known, comprehends a dinner 
at some noted tavern. A large number of booksellers 
are invited to attend, and immediately after the cloth 


is withdrawn, and the \v\ne decanters put in circula- 
tion, the sale begins. All the guests are provided with 
catalogues of the books for disposal, and as each work 
is offered in turn at a specified price, copies are handed 
about as specimens. The inducement to make pur- 
chases is a certain reduction on the ordinary allowance, 
and, in addition, thirteen copies are usually given 
for the price of twelve. At the period to which I am 
referring, trade-sales of this festive description were 
more common than they are in these sober-minded days, 
and at them such large quantities of books were ordin- 
arily disposed of, that the seller, who acted as host, and 
sat at the top of the table, did not find occasion to 
grudge the expense of the entertainment. The business 
was conducted with a blending of fun and conviviality. 
There was occasionally a toast, with the honours, as an 
interlude, and it was not unusual for one or two of the 
guests to be called on for a song. 

The sale on the present occasion took place in the 
Lord Nelson Hotel, Adam Square. Mr Griffin requir- 
ing some one acquainted with the handling and 
arranging of books, previous to the dinner, heard of 
me from a bookseller as being unemployed and likely 
to suit his purpose. I agreed to assist him as far as was 
in my power, and did so without any notion of requital. 

The trade-sale was well attended, and went off with 
uncommon klat. Mr Robert Miller, of Manners and 
Miller, told his drollest anecdotes, whistled tunes with 
the delicacy of a flageolet, and sung his best songs as 
few men can sing them. There was a large sale effected; 
for it was the first time that a variety of standard works 
had been offered at considerably reduced prices. On 
the day succeeding this bibliopolic festival, I attended 

146 MEMOIR. 

to assist in packing up, in the course of which I was 
questioned regarding my plans. I stated to the friendly 
inquirer that I was about to begin business, but that I 
had no money ; if I had, I should take the opportunity 
of buying a few of his specimens, for I thought I could 
sell them to advantage. ' Well,' he replied, ' I like that 
frankness; you seem an honest lad, and have been 
useful to me ; so do not let the want of money trouble 
you : select, if you please, ten pounds worth of my 
samples, and I will let you have the usual credit' 

That was a turning-point in my life. In a strange 
and unforeseen manner, I was to be put in possession 
of a small collection of saleable books, sufficient to 
establish me in business. Gladly embracing the offer, 
I selected a parcel of books great and small, to the 
value of ten pounds, which I proceeded to pack into 
an empty tea-chest, and carry off without incmring the 
aid or expense of a porter. Borrowing the hotel truck, 
I wheeled the chest to my shop in Leith Walk ; elated, 
it may be supposed, in no ordinary degree at this 
fortunate incident, and not the least afraid of turning the 
penny long before the day of payment came round. 

Though furnished in this extraordinary manner with 
a stock, I was still unprovided with any kind of fixtures, 
such as counter or shelving. But this deficiency gave 
me little concern. It was not my design to sell books 
inside a shop. That, I knew, would never do. My 
plan, like that of my brother, and also many illustrious 
predecessors, was to expose my wares on a stall outside 
the door. I had years previously read the Autobiog- 
raphy of James Lackington, who mentions that he 
began business as a bookseller in 1774, the whole of his 
stock of old books, laid out on a stall, not amounting to 


five pounds in value; that in 1792, when he retired into 
private Hfe, the profits of his business amounted to 
;^5ooo a year; and that he had reaUsed all he was 
possessed of, by 'small profits, bound by industry, and 
clasped by economy.'' I could not possibly expect to 1 
reach anything like this marvellous success of Lacking- 
ton, but at anyrate there was an example offered in his 
small beginning, which it was my resolution to follow. 

There is an old saying, that ' we should not leave till 
to-morrow what can be done to-day.' On this maxim, 
I made the improvement of ' not leaving till the next 
five minutes what can be done in the present,' and so 
hastened to get to work with as little delay as the cir- 
cumstances permitted. With the five shillings which 
I had received as my last week's wages, I purchased a 
few deals at a neighbouring wood-yard, and from these, 
with a saw, hammer, and nails, I soon constructed all 
the shop furniture which I required ; the most essential 
articles being a pair of stout trestles, on which was 
laid a board, whereupon to exhibit my wares to the 

Having at length prepared everything to my mind, 
I was able one day, at the beginning of June, when 
the weather happened to be good, to commence my 
small business. Picture me, on a fine sunny morning, 
planting a pair of trestles on the broad sideway in front 
of my little shop, then laying on them a board ; and last 
of all carrying out my stock of books and arranging 
them in three rows — the smaller ones in front, and 
the larger ones behind, with pamphlets embellished with 
plates stuck alluringly between. The whole, I fancied, 
made a respectable appearance, with a certain air of 
originality. Hitherto, the book-stalls about Edinburgh 

148 MEMOIR. 

had exhibited Httle else than old books, mostly purchased 
at the nightly auctions. The best of the stalls was one 
set up in the Grassmarket on Wednesdays for the 
market-people, and there were likewise some attractive 
establishments of this kind near the College and High 
School, with which I had early become acquainted. 
But, on the whole, including those on the Walk, the 
staple commodities were books bound in leather, which 
had suffered more or less from years of rough usage. 
Whereas, all my books being new, and done up in 
boards with white back-titles, as was then the prevailing 
fashion, their appearance was suggestive of tempting 

Like an angler who eagerly watches his bait, I am to 
be supposed as waiting patiently at my door ready to 
be spoken to by intending purchasers — not obtrusively 
so, for fear of scaring away the timid ; just hanging about 
in an easy indifferent sort of way, within hail; but 
nervously anxious when a passenger, after glancing 
cogitatingly over my wares, took heart to ask the price 
of any book that happened to strike his fancy. I enter- 
tain a pleasant recollection of my first business trans- 
action. It was the sale of a copy of Robertson's 
History of Charles V., in five volumes duodecimo, a 
rather neat but not fine edition of the work. At night, 
I carried it home to the purchaser. My other sales 
during the day were of less moment. They consisted 
of a copy of Hervey's Meditations and a sixpenny song- 
book. Altogether, I cleared a profit of nine shillings 
and threepence the first day, which put me in high 
spirits, notwithstanding some exhaustion of stomach ; 
for I had been too anxious to think about any regular 
dinner, and contented myself with a little bread and 


milk. In this self-sacrificing assiduity, however, I claim 
no special merit. It is what every youth who has to win 
his way can do if he likes. 

Daily, the contents of the stall disappeared, and I was 
able to introduce variety by buying parcels of books at 
Carfrae's, which I regularly attended with my brother. 
At this evening auction, I speedily became known to 
the fraternity of stall-keepers, and was graciously acknow- 
ledged by them as one of * the trade,' in which Robert 
was already a recognised member. As regards the 
account I had incurred, I discharged it when it became 
due, and continued for some time to order and pay for 
regular supplies. I added the sale of stationery to my 
business, but the population around was limited, and 
that came to little. I felt some pleasure in keeping 
up a correspondence with Mr Griftin, through whose 
considerate kindness I had been enabled to make 
a commencement. Presuming on this intimacy, I 
requested him to purchase for me three pounds' worth 
of a cheap kind of flutes, which were sometimes inquired 
for by seafaring men. The flutes, which were procured 
from a maker of musical instruments in London, in 
due time arrived, and the sale of them helped me a 
little onward. Within six months, the most critical 
part of my struggle was over. In a small but encourag- 
ing way, I may be considered as having been fairly 

By studying to sell cheaply, my profits in the aggregate 
were not great ; but along with Robert, I lived frugally. 
Our united daily expenses in housekeeping did not exceed 
a shilling. For years after beginning business, the cost of 
my own living was limited to sixpence a day, and all that 
was over I laid out in adding to my stock. As my sales 

150 MEMOIR. 

were to a large extent new books in boards, I felt that 
the charge made for the boarding of them was an item 
that pressed rather heavily upon me. Why, thought I, 
should I not buy the books in sheets, and put them in 
boards myself? It is true, I had not been taught the 
art of bookbinding, but I had seen it executed in ray 
frequent visits to a bookbinder's workshop, and was 
confident that if I had the proper apparatus I could at 
least put books in boards; for that was but a rudi- 
mentary department of the craft. The articles available 
for the purpose at length fell in my way. After this, I 
procured my books in sheets, which I forthwith folded, 
sewed, and othenvise prepared to my satisfaction, 
thereby saving on an average threepence to fourpence a 
volume, my only outlay being on the material employed; 
for my labour was reckoned as nothing. 

In this droll scheming way, I tried to make the best 
of my lot. The condition of the weather was an 
important element of consideration. In fine days, the 
Walk was thronged with foot-passengers, a number of 
whom found some recreation in lounging for a few 
minutes over my stall. If there was a prospect of rain, 
they hurried on ; and when it became determinedly wet, 
business was over for the day. I might as well bring in 
my books at once, and try to find something to do 
indoors. When the stall was not in operation, sales 
were almost at a stand-still. Hundreds, I found, as 
Lackington had done before me, would buy books from 
a stall, who would not purchase them equally cheap in 
a shop. The advantageous peculiarity of the stall is, 
that it secures those who have formed no deliberate 
intention to buy. Lying invitingly with their backs 
upward, the books on a stall solicit just as much 


attention as you are pleased to give them. You may 
look at them, or let them alone. You may, as if by 
chance, take up and set down volume after volume 
without getting compromised. The bookseller, however, 
is perfectly aware of what is likely to ensue. When he 
observes that the lounger over his stall is not satisfied 
with a casual glance, but goes on examining book after 
book, he is pretty certain there is to be a purchase. 
Continued inspection excites an interest in the mind. 
There is perhaps no intention at first to buy, but 
gradually the feelings are warmed up, and it is then 
scarcely possible to resist asking the price of some book 
which more particularly strikes the fancy. Asking the 
price is equivalent to passing the Rubicon. After that, 
the desire for purchasing becomes nearly irresistible. 
Going into shops to buy books in cold blood is quite a 
different thing. Before entering, there must in general 
be a distinct intention to purchase. 

Stall-keepers of all varieties know the value of the 
obtrusive principle ; and it may be doubted if the 
modern shop system is in most cases an improvement 
on the old practice of exposing wares in open booths 
along the sides of the thoroughfare. The original 
Stationarii, who exposed their books at the gateways 
of universities, immediately after the invention of 
printing — what were they but stall-keepers? Did not 
also many booksellers of good repute last century set 
up stalls for the sale of their wares on market-days? 
One does not read without interest the anecdote of 
Michael Johnson, bookseller at Lichfield, who, being 
unable from illness to set up his stall as usual at 
Uttoxeter, requested his son Samuel to do so in his 
stead, which request was refused, from a feeling of false 

152 MEMOIR. 

pride; and how this act of fiHal disobedience, having 
preyed in after-hfc on the morbidly susceptible mind 
of the great lexicographer, he, by way of expiation, went 
to Uttoxeter on a market-day, and stood in a drenching 
rain on the site of his father's stall, amidst the jeering 
remarks of the bystanders. There is something, there- 
fore, like a classic authority for book-stalls. They remind 
us of the infancy of printed literature and the usages of 
an olden time. 

The Walk offered uncommon facilities for the traffic 
in which I was engaged. Long stretches of the. foot- 
way from thirty to forty feet wide, admitted of stalls 
being set outside the doors without obstructing the 
thoroughfare. Some might think that they were an 
attraction to what was otherwise a pleasant promenade. 
The book-stalls were four in number — those belonging 
to my brother and myself, and two others. They were 
all situated on the shady side of the road, forming at 
proper distances from each other a series of literary 
lures, likely to be visited en suite. Interesting from the 
diversity of their wares, they to a certain extent were 
mutually helpful. There was nothing like a feeling of 
rivalry among us. Accustomed to discuss professional 
matters, we were able to cultivate a few jocularities as 
a seasoning to a too frequent dullness. We learned 
how to distinguish habitual nibblers, who never bought, 
but only gave trouble, from those on whom we could 
reasonably reckon for a purchase, and knew how to act 
accordingly. The stall offered a study of character. 
There was not a little perversity or stupidity to be 
amused with. Some stall frequenters would buy 
nothing but books which had been used. Defective in 
judgment, they could not imagine the possibility of 


getting a new book as cheaply as an old one. The 
stall-keepers on the Walk found it necessary to humour 
purchasers of this sort. It was not difficult to do so ; 
they had only to cut up the leaves, and soil the outside 
of a book, in order to make it thoroughly acceptable. 

With all the diligence tliat could be exercised, there 
was little scope for expansion in my small trade. With 
every effort, time hung heavy on my hands. I fretted 
at inaction. To relieve the monotony of the long dull 
hours during bad weather, I took to copying poems and 
various prose trifles in a fine species of penmanship, in 
the hope of selling them for albums. It was assuredly 
a weak resource, but what could I do ? If I spent days 
over the manufacture of a few verses, which sold for 
only a single shilling — it was employment — better than 
sitting vaguely idle. 

The notion of attempting to write in a style closely 
resembling the delicate print-like lettering on copper- 
plate engravings, occurred to me two or three years 
previously. A retired naval officer in poor circum- 
stances had written an account of his captivity in 
France during the war, and raffled it for five pounds. 
The penmanship was exceedingly elegant, and I felt 
desirous to attempt something that might prove equally 
tasteful. From time to time, I made attempts at 
imitation, but never came up to the original. I had, 
however, acquired a facility in the art. The work was 
executed with a finely jjointed crow-pen on smooth 
paper, ruled with lines for the purpose, and cost pro 
digious care and patience, because any blunder would 
have been fatal. Occupying any spare hours when the 
stall could not be put out, and poring over a desk, I 
was able to realise a few shillings by these laborious 

154 MEMOIR. 

transcriptions. Wliat was of much greater value, these 
little pieces of penmanship helped to bring me more 
into notice, and to procure me the friendship of some 
estimable persons. 

A gentleman (Mr James Dallas) who happened to 
see one of my specimens of caligraphy, was pleased to 
think better of it than it deserved, and without solicita- 
tion patronised my humble business establishment. He 
was about to be married, and wished to procure a 
quantity of books of a superior kind in the finest bind- 
ings for his library. One day, he called to inquire as 
to the practicability of my supplying his wants. Satis- 
fied with the information, he gave an order of such mag- 
nitude as astonished me, and raised serious doubts as to 
how, with my miserable resources, it was to be executed. 
Apprehending some difificulty on this score, he relieved 
all anxieties by stating that I should bring the books 
in parcels from time to time, and that each parcel 
would be paid for on delivery. 

This fortunate transaction gave me a lift onward, and 
stimulated to new efiforts. The fact that I had un- 
expectedly benefited in a large degree by a gentleman 
seeing one of my small pieces of penmanship, suggests 
the reflection, that in business, as in human affairs 
generally, incidents which are seemingly insignificant 
often lead to important results. Young men are apt 
to treat what appears a small matter with indifference, 
if not disdain, without being conscious that in commerce 
nothing is small or to be passed over as of no moment. 
I once heard a merchant who had risen to great wealth 
say, that civility in serving a woman in humble cir- 
cumstances with a pennyworth of tape, had led, by a 
remarkable chain of circumstances, to dealings to the 


extent of hundreds of pounds. In my o\rci case, as 
just stated, a small piece of transcription with a crow- 
pen had, by an unforeseen current of events, terminated 
in a manner much more advantageous than I had any 
reason to expect. 

The progress I had made during the first year rendered 
it expedient to procure an enlargement of my premises. 
This being effected, I was able to appropriate a small 
back-room as a dwelling, so as to be near my work — 
the furniture as meagre as might be, for I could not 
indulge in the luxury of a carpet, and was fain to 
enclose my bed with a drapery of brown paper in place 
of curtains. I was also enabled in various ways to 
extend my business operations, and accommodate those 
who did me the honour to call. Among these visitors 
were several literary aspirants who hung about the out- 
skirts of society. Few are aware of the great number 
of poets in Scotland. Those whose names become 
generally known are insignificant in number to tlie host 
who are never heard of beyond the limited locality in 
which they move. My brother's and my own literary 
tastes, to say nothing of our connection with books, 
made us acquainted with several poets of this order. 
Among these, the oddest was George Galloway, an 
aged shoemaker, who, deserting his last, had taken to 
the writing of poems and dramas. His standard pro- 
duction was The Battle of Lu near iy, vihxch. his admirers 
thought 'almost' as good as Shakspeare. William Knox, 
author of The Lonely Hearth and other Poems, was an 
enthusiast of a different kind, but succumbed at an early 
age to what were mildly termed his 'genial propensities.* 

We were more happy in knowing intimately Robert 
Gilfillan, still a young man, writer of some pleasing and 

156 MEMOIR. 

popular Scottish songs, who had been bred in Leith as 
an apprentice to a grocer, and had therefore undergone 
that routine of duties which I had narrowly escaped. 
He was a person of amiable temperament, simple in his 
habits, with whom it was a pleasure to interchange 
courtesies. I may say the same of Henry Scott Riddell, 
who was numbered among our early friends, and has 
left some singularly touching lyrics and other pieces. 

There was still another of these geniuses, John C. 
Denovan, an excitable being, who lived in a world of 
romance strangely at variance with his actual circum- 
stances. I first knew Denovan when he was a porter to 
a tea-dealer at the foot of Leith Street Terrace, directly 
opposite the spot where I had been an apprentice. He 
was the child of misfortune. His father had procured 
for him the position of midshipman, in which capacity 
he made a single voyage and acquired notions of life at 
sea. Then he was somehow deserted, and left to his 
shifts \vith his mother, a poor abject being, to whom he 
stuck to the last. In his reduced condition, he acquitted 
himself honestly, but his wayward fancies did not square 
with the difficulties with which he had to struggle. He 
was always overflowing with allusions to Wordsworth, 
Byron, Keats, and Leigh Hunt. A little crazy on 
poetical subjects, he, by an easy transition, became half 
mad on pohtics, and edited a weekly periodical called 
The Patriot, which was desperately Radical in character. 
One of its leading articles, I remember, began with the 
portentous words : ' Day follows day, and chain follows 
chain.' Yet Denovan was a harmless creature. His 
poetical pieces were noticed with some approbation by 
Sir Walter Scott, who, while visiting Ballantyne's printing- 
office at Paul's Work, now and tlien, in a kindly way, 


looked in upon him at his den in Leith Wynd, where 
he latterly made a livelihood by coftee-roasting, and 
where he died in 1827. There was a little exhilaration 
in having an occasional conversation on literary topics 
with these writers. To a higher region we did not yet 

I still at odd times continued my labours with the 
crow-pen, but at best this was a trivial art, and I had 
secret yearnings to procure a press and t}'pes, in order 
to unite printing with my other branches of business. I 
partly formed this desire by having employed a printer 
to execute a small volume, purporting to be an account 
of David Ritchie, the original of the Black Dwarf, whom 
I had seen when a boy in Peeblesshire. The success of 
this enterprise, commercially, led to the conclusion that 
if I could print as well as write my poor productions, I 
might add to my available means. It would be enough 
if I could procure an apparatus sufficient for executing 
small pamphlets, and the humbler varieties of job- 

For some time my inquiries failed to discover what 
would be within the compass of my means, until at 
length a person who had begun business in a way not 
unlike my own, and constructed a press for his own use, 
intimated his desire of selling off, in order to remove to 
a distant part of the country. The whole apparatus, 
including some types, was to be disposed of cheaply 
by private bargain. The price sought could not be 
considered excessive. It was only three pounds. To 
set up as a printer on a less capital than this was surely 
impossible. I paid the money, and became the happy 
possessor. From that time, I troubled myself no more 
with imitative print-writing. That branch of art was 

158 MEMOIR. 

taken up and followed for a time by my brother, who so 
greatly excelled in it as to leave my efforts far behind. 

I hesitate to think that I acted properly in directing 
my mind towards letterpress printing, while deficient in 
capital to pursue the profession with any solid advantage. 
My best excuse was the wish to occupy idle time. In 
the mornings when the sun was up, I endeavoured to 
make use of the daylight by reading and study, as I 
had done formerly. Perusing the Spectator, I carefully 
scrutinised the papers of Addison and other writers, 
sentence by sentence, in order to familiarise myself 
with their method of construction and treatment. But 
beyond this I had little patience. I felt that the time 
had come for action, and that every hour spent in doing 
nothing was so much time wasted. Yet, with every 
excuse, I have never ceased to be amazed at my pre- 
sumption in trying, without any knowledge of the 
typographic art, to set up with such miserable mechan- 
ical appliances. Nothing more primitive had been 
attempted since Guttenberg made his rudimentary efforts 
in the art of printing. 

At the risk of being tiresome, let me endeavour to 
give an idea of this wonderful apparatus. The press, 
which was constructed to stand on a table, consisted 
of a wooden sole, with a carriage, on which the form 
of types was to be laid ; and this carriage, or movable 
part, required to be pushed forward and drawn out as 
you would push and draw out a drawer. The power 
consisted of an iron screw hung on a cross beam, sus- 
tained by two upright supports. The handle was 
attached to the upper and projecting end of the screw, 
and had to be turned about twice with a smart jerk 
before the pressure could be effected. The working 


of the machine was slow and imperfect Owing to the 
unsteadiness of the structure, the impression was far 
from perfect. The extent of the pressing surface was 
eighteen inches by twelve, equal to four octavo pages. 
When the screw was brought to the pull, a jangling and 
creaking noise was produced, like a shriek of anguish, 
that might have been heard two houses off. The 
impression being so effected, the screw had to be 
whisked back to a state of repose. I had no table on 
which to fix this frail machine, and placed it on a stout 
wooden chest turned on its side, which in former and 
more prosperous days had been used in my father's 
house as a 'meal-ark.' 

As regards my fount of types, it consisted of about 
thirty pounds-weight of brevier, dreadfully old and worn, 
having been employed for years in the printing of a 
newspaper, and, in point of fact, only worth its value as 
metal. Along with the fount, I had a pair of cases, in 
which the letters were assorted. My bargain did not 
embrace a frame or stand for the cases. That I supplied 
by the ordinary resource of wood bought from a timber- 
yard, and the application of my carpenter's tools. For 
a small additional outlay, I procured a brass composing- 
stick, some quoins and other pieces of furniture, an iron 
chess, and a roller, along with a pound-weight of 
printing-ink, I was now complete. 

As soon as I had arranged all parts of my apparatus, 
I looked abroad over the field of literature to see which 
work should first engage my attention. My best plan, 
as I thought, would be to begin by printing a small 
volume on speculation ; sell the copies, and with the 
proceeds buy a variety of types for executing casual jobs 
which might drop in. A small volume I must print, 

i6o MEMOIR. 

and finish in a marketable style, that is clear, in order 
to raise funds. Fixed in this notion, I selected for my 
first venture a pocket edition of the songs of Robert 
Burns. This speculation was suggested by the fact that 
a small-sized edition of these popular songs, executed 
by an Edinburgh printer, had sold remarkably well on 
the stalls, and had already become scarce. There was 
room, I thought, for a little book of the kind. I 
accordingly commenced to set up a volume of a similar 
size; going to work on the songs of our national bard 
with all the enthusiasm which these beautiful lyrics are 
calculated to inspire — the very pleasure I experienced 
in setting up song after song being a little detrimental, for 
I hung delightedly over the verses, and could not help 
singing them as I went on with the manual operations. 

I had never been taught the art of the compositor; 
but just as I had casually gleaned some knowledge of 
bookbinding, so I had picked up the method of setting 
types. When an apprentice, I had been frequently 
sent errands to the printing-office of Mr Ruthven, in 
Merchant's Court; the premises which, two centuries 
previously, had formed the town mansion of Thomas 
Hamilton, first Earl of Haddington, jocosely styled by 
James VI. ' Tam o' the Cowgate.' In the fine old dining- 
hall where * Tam ' had entertained royalty, I was, while 
waiting for proofs, favoured with an opportunity of 
seeing the compositors pursue their ingenious art, and 
learning how types were arranged in lines and pages. 
Recollections of what I had thus seen of compositor- 
ship were now revived, and I began to set up my song- 
book without receiving any special instruction ; my 
composing-frame being placed in such a situation that I 
was ready to attend to other matters of business. While 


SO occupied, I was visited by my old friend James King, 
whom I had for some time lost sight of His taste for 
chemistry had brought him into the employment of a 
glass-manufacturer; and now, in connection with that 
line of business, he was about to sail for Australia, 
where a useful career was before him. He was amused 
with, and, I think, compassionated, my feeble efforts. 
We parted — not to meet until both were in different 
circumstances, many years afterwards. 

My progress in compositorship was at first slow. I 
had to feel my way. A defective adjustment of the 
lines to a uniform degree of tightness was my greatest 
trouble, but this was got over. The art of working my 
press had next to be acquired, and in this there was no 
difficulty. After an interval of fifty years, I recollect 
the delight I experienced in working oft" my first impres- 
sion ; the pleasure since of seeing hundreds of thousands 
of sheets pouring from machines in which I claim an 
interest being nothing to it ! If the young and thought- 
less could only be made to know this — the happiness, 
the dignity of honest labour conducted in a spirit of 
self-reliance — the insignificance and probably temporary 
character of untoward circumstances while there is 
youth, along with a willing heart — the proud satisfaction 
of acquiring by persevering industry instead of by com- 
passionate donation — how differently would they art ! 

I think there was a degree of infatuation in my 
attachment to that jangling, creaking, wheezing little 
press. Placed at the only window in my a[)artment, 
within a few feet of my bed, I could see its outlines in 
the silvery moonlight when I awoke ; and there, at the 
glowing dawn did its figure assume distinct proportions. 
When daylight came fully in, it was impossible to resist 

i62 MEMOIR. 

the desire to rise and have an hour or two of exercise 
at the Httle machine. 

With an imperfect apparatus, the execution of my 
song-book was far from good. Still, it was legible in 
the old ballad and chap-book style, and I was obliged 
to be content. Little by little, I got through the small 
volume. It was a tedious drudgery. With my limited 
fount, I could set up no more than eight small pages, 
forming the eighth part of a sheet. After printing the 
first eight, I had to distribute the letter and set up the 
second eight, and so on throughout a hundred pages. 
Months were consumed in the operation. The number 
of copies printed was seven hundred and fifty, to effect 
which I had to pull the press many thousand times. 
But labour, as already hinted, cost nothing. I set the 
types in the intervals of business, particularly during 
wet weather, when the stall could not be put out, and 
the press-work was executed late at night or early in the 
morning. The only outlay worth speaking of for the 
little volume was that incurred for paper, which I was 
unable to purchase in greater quantities than a few 
quires at a time, and therefore at a considerable dis- 
advantage in price, but this was only another exemplifi- 
cation of the old and too well-known truth, that 'the 
destruction of the poor is their povert)^,' about which it 
was useless to repine. 

When completed, the volume needed some species 
of embellishment, and fortune helped me at this con- 
juncture. There dwelt in the neighbourhood a poor 
but ingenious man, advanced in life, named Peter Fyfe, 
with whom I had already had some dealings. Peter — 
a short man, in a second-hand suit of black clothes, and 
wearing a white neckcloth, which he arranged in loose 


folds so as effectually to cover the breast of his shirt — 
was from the west country. He had been a weaver's 
reed-maker in Paisley, but having been unfortunate in 
business, he had migrated to Edinburgh, in the hope of 
procuring some kind of employment. Necessitous and 
clever, with an inexhaustible fund of humour, he was 
ready for anything artistic that might come in his way. 
Peter did not want confidence. I am not aware of any 
department in the fine or useful arts of which he would 
have confessed himself ignorant. At this period, when 
few knew anything of lithography, and he knew nothing 
at all, he courageously undertook, in answer to an 
advertisement, to organise and manage a concern of that 
kind, and by tact and intuition gave unqualified satis- 
faction. Peter was just the man I wanted. Although 
altogether unacquainted with copperplate engraving, he 
executed, from the descriptions I gave him, a portrait 
of the Black Dwarf, for my account of that singular 
personage — which sketch has ever since been accepted 
as an authority. 

I now applied to this genius for a wood-engraving 
for my song-book, which he successfully produced, and 
for a few shillings additional, he executed a vignette 
representing some national emblems. Invested with 
these attractions, the song-book was soon put in boards, 
and othenvise prepared for disposal. I sold the whole 
either in single copies at a shilling, or wholesale to other 
stall-keepers at a proper reduction, and, after paying all 
expenses, cleared about nine pounds by the transaction. 

Nine pounds was not a large sum, but it served an 
inipoi-lunl end. I was able to make some additions to 
my scanty stock of types, which I procured from an aged 
printer with a decaying business. To be prepared for 

1 64 MEMOIR. 

executing posting-bills, I cut a variety of letters in wood 
with a chisel and pen-knife. For such bold headings, 
therefore, as ' Notice,' ' Found,' or ' Dog Lost,' I was 
put to no straits worth mentioning. One of my most 
successful speculations was the cutting in wood of the 
words 'To Let,' in letters four inches long, an edition 
of which I disposed of by the hundred at an enormous 
profit, to dealers who sold such things to stick on the 
fronts of houses to be let. 

Since the acquisition of a back-room, I lived entirely 
by myself. The few articles of furniture with which my 
dwelling was provided required no special care. Like 
Robinson Crusoe, I contrived to live without any per- 
sonal assistance ; but from previous experience, this did 
not involve any sacrifice. I continued to live on the 
plainest fare; used no tobacco, and neyer_tasted beer, 
wine, or spirits ; nor did I feel the want of these articles. 
There was no doubt a certain air of vacuity about my 
poor domicile, but it was scrupulously clean and orderly ; 
and, at all events, there was nobody to find fault with it. 
There was one unpleasant drawback in domestic arrange- 
ments. No water could be procured except from a cart 
laden with a barrel from St Margaret's Well, which passed 
along the Walk every morning, the driver blowing a 
long tin horn to give note of his approach. The water 
was sold at a halfpenny the pitcher. As may be sup- 
posed, I was my own water-carrier. My brother, with 
whom I had some pleasant consultations every evening, 
on business and other afiairs, lived precisely as I did, in 
his separate dwelling. 

With enlarged accommodation, I commenced to keep 
a circulating library, which, owing to the frequent issues 
of the Waverley Novels, was tolerably successful. My 


first counter, which consisted of some rudely put 
together deals, pasted over with pink blotting-paper, to 
give it a look of mahogany, was now dismissed with 
thanks for its services, and was replaced by a counter 
of a more substantial and respectable character, which 
I purchased for twenty shillings at a sale of effects. 
About the same time, I bought a second-hand sign- 
board of considerable dimensions. It had belonged to 
a vintner, and required to be painted anew. This I 
effected at a very small cost — little more than eightecn- 
pence. My practice in writing letters to resemble print 
rendered the painting a matter of no difficulty ; accord- 
ingly, with some oil-paint and bnishes procured for 
the purpose, I painted the sign-board in well-defined 
letters in chrome yellow on a black ground. With a 
presumption characteristic of the Walk, the inscription 
announced that I was a ' Bookseller and Printer,' and 
with this bold intimation, the huge sign-board was 
hoisted to the tiled roof which covered my small 
establishment, A great step in advance this. On the 
whole, things were looking up. 

All young men entering business are, I suppose, 
haunted by advisers and gossips, who, leading an idle 
kind of life, are glad to kill time in any quarter they get 
encouragement. Loungers of this class were inclined to 
honour me with their company, but I was too busy and 
too anxious to make use of every moment of time to 
greatly cultivate their acquaintance. Among them, there 
was the aged military pensioner who pops about, and has 
reminiscences of Walcheren ; the decayed ship-captain, 
who, after being some time in the Oporto trade, has for 
the last five years been ineftectually trying to get a post as 
harbour-master 3 the broken-down merchant, who lives 

1 66 MEMOIR. 

across the way (in dependence on his sons), and who, 
being a determined humorist, has a faculty for making 
satirical remarks on the by-passers. I can recollect 
that one of this host of idlers was a habitual grumbler, 
who, alarmed at the political aspect of affairs, prognosti- 
cated the certain and speedy ruin of the country, and 
earnestly and confidentially advised me to emigrate to 
IHinois, or anywhere. I knew better than to apprehend 
national ruin — and stuck on. 

Through the agency of book-hawkers who purchased 
quantities of my Burns's Songs, I procured some orders 
for printing ' Rules ' for Friendly and Burial Societies. 
These answered me very well. The Rules were 
executed in my old brevier, leaded, on the face of half 
a sheet of foolscap, and were therefore within the 
capacity of my fount. A person who was a lessee of 
several toll-bars in the neighbourhood of the city, found 
me out as a cheap printer, and gave me a job in 
printing toll-tickets, which I executed to his satisfaction. 
Another piece of work of a similar character which 
came in my way was the printing of tickets for pawn- 
brokers. My principal employer in this line was a 
lady whose establishment was a second floor in High 
Street. She was a short, plump, laughing, good-natured 
woman, turned of fifty years of age. Her family con- 
sisted of a niece, who attended to business, and an 
aged female domestic, who went by the name of 
* Pawkie Macgouggy.' Pawkie, who had been a servant 
in the family for upwards of twenty years, received me 
when I called with a package of tickets, and kindly gave 
me a seat in the kitchen till her mistress could be 
communicated with. 

The lady was so obliging as to shew me some 



politeness, and then, as well as a few years later, I 
learned a part of her history. She had tnnelled abroad, 
and brought with her to Edinburgh a knowledge of con- 
tinental cookery. With this useful acquirement, she set 
up a tavern business in South Bridge Street, and there 
she laid the foundation of her fortune by a dexterous 
hit in the culinary art. This consisted in the invention 
of a savoury dish possessing an odour which, it was 
said, no human being could resist. To this marvellously 
fascinating dish she gave the name of Golli-Gosperado. 
The way she attracted customers was ingenious. Her 
tavern was down a stair, and was lighted by windows 
to the street, protected by iron gratings, over which 
the passengers walked. Having prepared her Golli- 
Gosperado, she put a smoking dish of it underneath 
the gratings in the pavement. According to her own 
account, the odour was overpowering. Gentlemen in 
passing were instantly riveted to the spot. They 
declared they must have some of that astonishing dish, 
whatever it was, and at whatever cost, and down-stairs 
they rushed accordingly. For a time, there was quite 
a furor in the town about the Golli-Gosperado. The 
happy inventor retired from the trade with so much 
money that she was able to set up as a pawnbroker. 
In that profession she was likewise successful, and 
ultimately retired altogether from business to a villa in 
the neighbourhood, where she died, being attended in 
her last moments by the fiiithful and sorrowing Pawkie 

A still better order than a batch of pawn-tickets 
awaited me. A draper on a considerable scale, who 
had known my father when in business, and sympathised 
in his misfortunes, having learned thai I was carrying 

1 68 MEMOIR. 

on a small printing trade, one day sent for mc. On 
calling, I was introduced to this worthy old citizen 
(John Clapperton) — a small-sized man of advanced age, 
wearing hair-powder. After a little conversation regard- 
ing my prospects, he gave me an order to execute 10,000 
shop-bills, bearing at the top the words, in large Italics, 
Fresh and Cheap. It was imperative that there should be 
no alteration in the typography. For many years, the 
bill had been distinguished by Fresh a?id Cheap, in this 
style of letter, and I must on no account make any 
change. I undertook the job on these conditions. 
Before returning home, I went to my friend the old 
printer, and bought the types of Fresh and Cheap for 
a shilling. An ordinary printer would have set up 
four sets of type, and executed the four together, which 
for 10,000 copies would have required only 2500 pulls. 
Having only one Fj-esh and Cheap, and no great stock 
of letter otherwise, I threw off only one at a time, and 
therefore had to pull the whole 10,000 in separate 
impressions. I look back with satisfaction to having 
carried home my work in bundles, and in receiving 
payment from the venerable head of the firm. He 
dismissed me with a few complimentary remarks, stating 
1 p that there would be no fear of me if I kept steady and 
I clear of debt. Kindly words of this kind from a man 
- '-. who had himself surmounted early difficulties, helped to 
fortify my resolution. I could not see into tlie future, 
but it was obvious there were principles by which alone 
I could reckon on any chance of success. 
\ My means being somewhat improved, it did not 
appear unreasonable that I should enlarge my stock 
of letter, by ordering a moderate fount of longprimer 
adapted for pamphlet-work, from an aged type-founder, 


named Matthewson, who carried on business at St 
Leonard's, and with whom I had become acquainted. 
In his walks, he occasionally called to rest in passing, 
and hence our business dealings. His cut of letter was 
not particularly handsome, but in the decline of life 
and in easy circumstances, he did not care for new 

Disposed to be familiar, Matthewson gave me an 
outline of his history. He had, he said, been originally 
a shepherd boy, but from his earliest years had possessed 
a taste for carving letters and figures. One day, while 
attending his master's sheep, he was accidentally observed 
by the minister of the parish to be carving some words 
on a block of wood with a pocket-knife. The clergy- 
man was so pleased with his ingenuity, that he interested 
himself in his fate, and sent him to Edinburgh to pursue 
the profession of a printer. Shortly after\vards, he 
began to make himself useful by cutting dies for letters 
of a particular description required by his employer ; 
there being then no typefounder in the city. While .so 
occupied, he attracted the notice of Benjamin Franklin 
on his second visit to Scotland. This was about 177 1. 
Franklin was pleased with the skill of the young printer, 
and offered to take him to Philadelphia, and there assist 
him in establishing a letter-foundry. Matthewson was 
grateful for the disinterested offer, of which, unfortu- 
nately, for family reasons, he could not take advantage. 
He set up the business of letter-founding in Edinburgh, 
which he had all to himself until the commencement of 
establishments with higher claims to taste in execution. 

To vary the monotony of my occupation, I had for 
some time been making efforts at literary composition. 
It was litde I dared to attempt in that way, for anxiety 


concerning ways and means impelled me to disregard 
every species of employment that partook of recreation, 
or which was not immediately advantageous. With a 
view to publication at the first favourable opportunity, 
I wrote an account of the Scottish Gipsies, for which 
I drew on my recollection of that picturesque order of 
vagrants in the south of Scotland, and also the traditions 
I had heard regarding them. It was a trifle — nothing 
worth speaking of; but being now provided with a 
tolerably good fount of longprimer, also some new 
brevier suitable for foot-notes, I thought it might be 
made available. I accordingly set up the tract as a 
sixpenny pamphlet ; and for this small brochure a coarse 
copper-plate engraving was furnished by that versatile 
genius, Peter Fyfe. It represented a savage gipsy-fight 
at a place called Lowrie's Den, on the top of Soutra 
Hill. The edition was sold rapidly off, and I cleared 
a few pounds by the adventure. What was of greater 
service, I felt encouraged to put my thoughts on paper, 
and to endeavour to study correctness and fluency of 
expression. The tract on the Gipsies also procured me 
the acquaintance of a few persons interested in that 
wayward class of the community. 

My enlarged typographical capabilities led to new 
aspirations. Robert, who had made corresponding 
advances in business, but exclusively in connection with 
bookselling, was occupying his leisure hours in literary 
composition, which came upon him like an inspiration 
at nineteen years of age. His tastes and powers in this 
respect suggested the idea of a small periodical which we 
might mutually undertake. He was to be the editor and 
principal writer. I was to be the printer and publisher, 
and also to contribute articles as far as time permitted. 


The periodical was duly announced in a limited way, 
and commenced. A name was adopted from the optical 
toy invented by Sir David Brewster, about which all 
classes were for a time nearly crazy. It was called 
the Kaleidoscope, or Edinburgh Literary Amusement. In 
size, it was sixteen pages octavo — the price threepence 
— and it was to appear once a fortnight. The first 
number was issued on Saturday, October 6, 182 1. The 
mechanical execution of this literary serial sorely tested 
the powers of my poor little press, which received sundry 
claspings of iron to strengthen it for the unexpectctl 
duty. My muscular powers likewise underwent a trial. 
I had to print the sheet in halves, one after the other, 
and then stitch the two together. I set all the types, 
and worked off all the copies, my younger brother 
James, a fair-haired lad, rolling on the ink, and otherwise 
rendering assistance. 

This was the hardest task 1 had yet undergone ; for, 
being pressed by time, there was no opportunity for rest. 
Occupied with business, the composing-frame, and the 
press, also with some literary composition, I was in 
harness sixteen hours a day; took no more than a 
quarter of an hour to meals ; and never gave over work 
till midnight. Sometimes I had dreadful headaches. 
Of course, I do not justify this excessive application. It 
was clearly wrong. I was acting in violation of the laws 
of health. Enthusiasm alone kept me up — certainly no 
material stimulus. My only excuse for this ardently 
pursued labour, which must have been troublesome to 
quietly disposed neighbours, was what at the same 
period might have been offered by my brother for his 
incessant self-sacrificing exertions — a desire to overcome 
a condition that provoked the most stinging recollections. 

172 MEMOIR. 

I should probably have broken clown but for the weekly 
repose and fresh air of Sunday, when, after attending 
church, I had an exhilarating ramble on the sands and 

Robert wrote nearly the whole of the articles in the 
Kaleidoscope, verse as well as prose. My contributions 
consisted of only three or four papers. The general 
tone of the articles, by whomsoever produced, may be 
acknowledged to have been unnecessarily caustic and 
satirical. There was also a certain crudeness of ideas, 
such as might be expected from young and wholly 
inexperienced writers. Nevertheless, there was that in 
the Kaleidoscope which was indicative of Robert's future 
skill as an essayist; for here might be found some of 
the fancies which were afterwards developed in his 
more successful class of articles. In particular, may be 
mentioned the paper styled the ' Thermometer of Mis- 
fortune,' in which occur the ideas that were in after- 
years expanded into the essay on the luckless class of 
intemperates popularly known as ' Victims.' 

This little periodical also contained a few articles 
descriptive of a wayward class of authors in the lower 
walks of life, written from personal knowledge, and 
marked by that sympathy for the unfortunate which 
characterised my brother through life. I feel tempted 
to give one of these sketches. It refers to Stewart 
Lewis, a hapless being Avith whom Robert had become 
acquainted, when he himself was in straits previous to 
commencing his small business. 


'It was towards the end of 1816, when I lived in a cottage 
on one of the great roads which lead to this metropolis, 


that I was engaged in a mercantile concern in the city, and 
travelled thither every morning, and after the duties of the 
day were performed, came back in the evening. I was one 
evening, after my return, entertained by my mother with 
an account of two extraordinary persons, who had called 
during my absence ; and who afterwards proved to be 
Stewart Lewis and his wife, travelling on an expedition to 
Haddington, selling a small volume of poems which he had 
just published. 

*The appearance and singular manners of these visitants 
were described to me in such terms of respect, as made me 
regret my absence when they called ; and the volume of 
poems which they had left, increased my desire to see their 
author : for the acquaintance of a poet, and one who had 
actually printed his productions, was at that time an object 
of very great interest, and even curiosity. 

' On the very next evening, however, my curiosity was 
destined to be gratified, for who should drop in upon us but 
poor Lewis with his wife ! They had, to use the wife's 
expression, " never been off their feet " since early in the 
morning, and were very much fatigued accordingly. I was 
then introduced to the poet ; and in the course of five 
minutes, we were engaged in as sincere a friendship as if 
we had lived together from infancy. Whether it was from 
the naturally ardent enthusiasm of his temper, or a secret 
instinctive discovery that I was afterwards to become one 
of his own brotherhood, I will not, cannot, determine. From 
what I can recollect of his appearance and countenance, 
he was dressed in a suit of shabby clothes, mostly of a gray 
colour ; his person was slender ; his face interesting, and 
bearing peculiar marks of genius and intelligence ; his 
forehead was high, his hair g^ay and thin, and he had 
a countenance wrinkled with care, and squalid with poverty. 
He never spoke but under the influence of a sort of furor ; 
and he even did not return thanks for the favour of another 
cup of tea without an excitation of feeling and expression, 
which had in it something of poetic fervour. 


174 MEMOIR. 

'His wife was a little old woman, with no remains of 
that beauty which had captivated the high-toned heart of 
Stewart Lewis thirty years before. He had thus addressed 
her, on the thirtieth anniversary of their marriage : 

" Though roses now have left thy cheek, 
And dimples now in vain I seek ; 
Thy placid brow, so mild and meek, 
Proclaims I still should love thee. 

How changed the scene since that blest day ! 
My hair's now thin and silver gray ; — 
Though all that 's mortal soon decay, 
My soul shall live to love thee." 

She spoke in a low querulous voice, subdued in its tones by 
a long course of misery. They addressed each other by 
terms of endearment as strong, and spoke with as great an 
affection, as they had done on their marriage day. An 
instance of conjugal attachment has seldom been found 
like that of Stewart Lewis and his sorrow-broken spouse. 
He had addressed several poems to her, even in her old age, 
some of which are eminently beautiful, and breathe the 
spirit of as fond an affection as if they had still been the 
accents of a first love, unbroken and unproved. 

'They were much fatigued when they arrived ; but a 
refreshment of tea soon revived their spirits ; and though 
the success of their journey had been very limited, the poor 
bard was soon elevated to a state of rapturous excitement ; 
while yet in the intervals of his joy, the wife, who had less 
of a poetic temperament, and whom misfortune had taught 
the very habit of sorrow, would interfere, with a voice 
mournfully soothing, and warn him of his inevitable griefs 

'After this, we had frequent visits of Stewart Lewis ; but 
as these were generally through the day, when I was engaged 
in the duties of my profession, I had little opportunity of 
seeing him. He had left several copies of his poems with 
us ; and I afterwards succeeded in disposing of a few to the 


most poetical of the neighbourhood, which raised a small 
sum. I then resolved to pay him a visit. My father accom- 
panied me in this adventure, out of curiosity to see his 
dwelling. After searching all the closes at the west end of 
the Cowgate for his habitation, we were at length directed 
to it by an old woman, who appeared like a corpse from the 
grave, rising out of a low cellar in a very dark close — such 
a pallid and wrinkled crone as I have seen full oft in my 
antiquarian researches through the ancient lanes of the 
town, emerging from her dark dungeon at mid-day to taste 
one breath of a somewhat purer atmosphere than that of 
her own subterranean domicile. With her shrivelled arm 
she pointed up a narrow crazy stair which winded above 
her head, and told us that the object of our search lived 
there. We thanked her, and ascended. At the second 
landing-place, we entered a dark narrow passage, from 
which a number of doors seemed to diverge, the habitations 
of miserables, and in one of which dwelt Stewart Lewis. 

* On entering this wretched abode, we found the unfortu- 
nate bard, with his son, a lad of seventeen, sitting at a table, 
and employed in stitching up various copies of his poems 
in blue paper covers. At our entrance, he started up with 
an exclamation of surprise, and welcomed us to his humble 
shed. I perceived, however, that his countenance presently 
lost that bold smile of welcome, and his tongue that vehement 
gush of poetical, enthusiastic language, habitual to him in 
even the lowest occurrences of common life ; while his mind 
seemed engaged in recollecting whether there was anything 
in the house with which he might entertain us. I soon 
eased him of his fear on that account, by laying in his hand 
the small sum which I had collected for his benefit from the 
sale of his poems. His face immediately assumed its former 
smile, and after thanking me, he sent away his son with two- 
thirds of the money to purchase whiskey — an act of improvi- 
dent extravagance which I could not help condemning with 
perhaps too great vehemence for a guest. He did not seem 
offended by my remonstrances. It was obvious, however, 

176 MEMOIR. 

that the cause of his miserable and hopeless condition had 
been disclosed. 

'After this interview, I never saw Stewart Lewis more. 
His wife died shortly after, and he came to my father's 
house in my absence, in a state of distraction for his loss. 
He waited many hours for my return, but at last went away 
without seeing me. The depth of his sorrow was intimated 
to me in a way perhaps more affecting than any personal 
interview might have been. He left a letter, in which was 
written, in a hand which I could scarcely decipher, and in 
characters which strayed over the whole page : 

" My dear Sir, 


Stewart Lewis." 

'The affection which this poor man entertained for the 
benign being who, for upwards of thirty years, had shared 
with him a constant train of sorrow and poverty without 
ever repining, had in it something truly romantic. She was 
the first and only woman he had ever loved, and he always 
declared that he could not survive her loss. Their love was 
mutual, and her devotion to him had been often shewn by 
more substantial proofs than words. 

' She had frequently, even when they were in a state of 
starvation, worked a whole day at some coarse millinery 
work to earn a sixpence, that she might, with mistaken 
kindness, supply her husband with spirits. The unfortunate 
habit of drinking intoxicating liquors, which he had acquired 
after an early disappointment in life, never afterwards left 
him ; and whether to drown reflections on his own misery 
and blasted prospects, or to inspire him with the faculty of 
versification, he found the indulgence of that propensity, as 
he imagined, necessary to his existence. But never was the 
brow of this woman clouded with a reproof of the cause of 
all her sorrows, and a word of remonstrance against his 
foibles was never heard to escape her lips. He has com- 
memorated his unutterable affection in several beautiful 


songs. In one, which he calls his "Address to his Wife," I 
find the following pathetic verses : 

"In youthful life's ecstatic days, 

I 've rapt'rous kissed thae lips o' thine ; 
And fondly yet, with joy I gaze 
On thee, auld canty wife o' mine. 

When fortune's adverse winds did blaw, 

And maist my senses I wad tine, 
Thy smilin' face drove ill awa', 

Thou ever dear auld wife o' mine. 

Lang round the ingle's heartsome hlazc. 

Thy thrifty hand made a' to shine ; 
Thou 'st been my comfort a' my days, 

Thou carefu' dear auld wife o' mine. 

When life must leave our hoary head. 

Our genial souls will still be kin', 
We '11 smile and mingle wi' the dead, 

Thou canty dear auld wife o' mine." 

After the death of his wife, he wandered all over Scotland 
and the northern counties of England, reckless of his fate. 
He lamented her death in ceaseless complaints, and seemed 
careless of life. The remainder of the copies of his poems 
which he had left with us — a considerable number — were 
sent to him while he was at Inverness, and he subsisted 
entirely on what the sale of them provided for upwards of a 
twelvemonth. When weary of existence, and worn out with 
fatigue, he died at an obscure village in Dumfriesshire, 
about the end of 181 8. He left three daughters, none of 
whom I ever saw, and one son, who had latterly been the 
companion of his wanderings — a youth unfortunately weak 
in his intellects, and of whose fate I have been able to learn 

My brother's poetical i)ieccs were the best. Some 
of tliem were toucliing and beautiful, particularly the 

178 MEMOIR. 

address ' To the Evening Star,' which has been often 
reprinted by compilers of vokimes of poetry without 
intimating its origin, which is not surprising, for who 
knows that the obscure periodical in which it first made 
its appearance ever existed ? It may be given as a speci- 
men of his powers of versification at nineteen years of 


Soft star of eve, whose trembling light 

Gleams through the closing eye of day, 
Where clouds of dying purple bright 

Melt in the shades of eve away, 
And mock thee with a fitful ray. 

Pure spirit of the twilight hour. 
Till forth thou blazest to display 

The splendour of thy native power, 

'Twas thus, when earth from chaos spnmg. 

The smoke of forming worlds arose, 
And, o'er thine infant beauty hung, 

Hid thee awhile in dark repose ; 
Till the black veil dissolved away, 
, Drunk by the universal air, 

And thou, sweet star, with lovely ray, 

Shone out on paradise so fair. 

When the first eve the world had known 

Fell blissfully on Eden's bowers. 
And earth's first love lay couched upon 

The dew of Eden's fairest flowers ; 
Then thy first smile in heaven was seen 

To hail the birth of love divine, 
And ever since that smile hath been 

The sainted passion's hallowed shrine : 
Can lover yet behold the beam 

Unmoved, unpassioned, unrefined ? 
While there thou shin'st the brightest gem, 

To Night's cerulean crown assigned. 

/ 7^ 


Since then how many gentle eyes 

That love and thy pure ray made bright, 
Have gazed on thee with blissful sighs — 

Now veiled in everlasting night ! 
Oh, let not love or youth be vain 

Of present bliss, and hope more high ; 
The stars — the very clods remain — 

Love, they, and all of theirs must die. 

Now throned upon the western wave, 

Thou tremblest coyly, star of love I 
And dip'st beneath its gleamy heave 

Thy silver foot, the bath to prove. 
And though no power thy course may stay. 

Which nature's changeless laws compel, 
To thee a thousand hearts shall say — 

Sweet star of love, farewell, farewell 1 

The Kaleidoscope did not last. It sold pretty well 
but only to the extent of paying expenses, yielding no 
reward whatever for literary effort. Yet it was not an 
absolutely valueless undertaking. It was a trial of one's 
wings, and encouraged to higher flights in more favour- 
able times and circumstances. The concluding number 
appeared on 12th January 1822. 

From about this time, new and enlarged views began 
to predominate. Through a fervid earnestness of pur- 
pose, and the endurance of privations which were never 
felt to be of any serious consequence, early difficulties 
had been successfully mastered. Three to four years of 
a funny, scheming, struggling, tolerably hard-working 
existence — to be remembered like a dream or chapter of 
a romance — had fulfilled every reasonable anticipation. 
The Walk, we thought, had fairly served its day. With 
sentiments somewhat akin to those of Tom Tug, in the 
Waterman, when bidding a pathetic farewell to his 


* trim-built wherry,' we were disposed to bid an affecting 
and grateful adieu to stall and trestles, and bequeath to 
others the advantages, the drolleries, and classic associa- 
tions of open-air traffic. Migration was accordingly 
resolved on, and we had sundry communings as regards 
where we should respectively attempt to establish our- 
selves in Edinburgh. 

The step was adventurous, but not unjustifiable. We 
had, each in his own way, gained a footing, along with 
some experience. Robert had not been disciplined to 
business, as I had the fortune to be during an apprentice- 
ship ; but he was tractable, open to advice, and through 
sheer necessity he had allowed no opportunity to slip of 
improving his condition by diligent attention to details 
of a very humble kind. His accuracy was exemplified 
by punctiliously keeping a regular account of his 
business transactions, which has happily survived, and 
can be referred to as an evidence of the way in which 
he, little by little, accumulated means through a course 
of self-denial and painstaking industry. It is vastly 
interesting, at this distant day, to peruse the faithful 
record of each day's sale of a few old books, with the 
profit on each carefully noted, and the amount summed 
up at the end of the week, during a space of several 
years. The penmanship is neat; and the calculations 
are executed with a precision which might ofier an 
example to such beginners in business as are apt to take 
a loose view of the relationship which should subsist 
between income and expenditure. 

An additional interest is given to the record by the 
occasional entry of sums realised for ' Writing,' from a 
single shilling to sometimes as much as ten to twelve 
shillings. These entries signify that so much was gained 


by executing small quantities of visiting-cards, inscrip- 
tions on books, petitions, and poetic pieces in the minute 
kind of caligraphy in which my brother excelled ; the 
larger sums so specified being, of course, for what, 
in the intervals of ordinary business, had involved the 
labour of several days. The writing of ' petitions ' was 
the most profitable of this kind of work, only it did not 
come very often. On one occasion, we see an entry of 
a pound for * Writing a petition,' the profit on which is 
candidly set down at nineteen shillings and sixpence. 
A great day that ! With such valuable extraneous aids, 
Robert's general earnings were raised, as he takes care 
to calculate by working out an arithmetical question at 
the end of the book, to an average of one pound eight 
shillings and threepence-halfpenny weekly in the first 
half-year of 182 1. 

An evidence of his painstaking assiduity at this period, 
or shortly afterwards, has lately been presented in .a 
communication to a Fifeshire newspaper, which I give 
in an abbreviated form : ' Among the books required 
for a public librar}' set on foot at Dysart, was Travels in 
Italy, by Dr John Moore, a cheap second-hand copy of 
which was found at the small establishment of Robert 
Chambers, in Leith Walk. Unfortunately, the book 
was incomplete. Four leaves at the centre of the volume 
were missing. Anxious to effect a sale, Mr Chambers 
engaged to complete the work. And neatly, too, he 
did it. With a crow pen he ^v^ote in a manner to 
resemble print the missing eight pages, and rebound the 
book. The pages supplied by him are quite as easily 
read as the rest of the text, and the whole transaction 
offers a good example of the energy of purpose and 
perseverance which characterised his successful career.* 

1 82 MEMOIR. 

The volume which had been so ingeniously completed 
to render it a marketable commodity, has been kindly 
presented to me by the gentleman whose property it ulti- 
mately became. It may be reckoned a 'curiosity in 
literature.' The work of reparation must have cost 
several days of diligent application with the pen, while 
the entire price realised would at most be only two or 
three shillings. 

In the autumn of 1822 we had both a spurt onwards 
from a wholly unforeseen cause, the value of which it 
would be difficult to estimate. The extraordinary event 
was the visit of George IV. to Edinburgh. How this 
royal excursion should in any manner have influenced 
the fortunes of two such humble individuals may appear 
unaccountable. The explanation is simple. Taking 
advantage of the general excitement, I worked night 
and day printing off broadsides, popular songs, and 
programmes of the royal processions, which sold 
immensely. Robert participated in the windfall by 
being employed by several public bodies to write 
addresses to His Majesty in the peculiarly captivating 
style of penmanship for which he was now in some 
degree celebrated, through the recommendations of Sir 
Walter Scott — the recognised mainspring of this exciting 
national saturnalia. 

The explanation so far, is, no doubt, simple enough, 
but how did my brother, immersed in obscurity in Leith 
Walk, become personally known to the author of 
Waverley ? That needs to be cleared up. The inci- 
dent has a tinge of romance, and curiously illustrates 
how one thing may unexpectedly lead to another. At 
this time there dwelt in Leith a good-natured middle- 
aged man, a shipbuilder, by name Mr Alexander Sime. 


He had been educated at Peebles, and retained some 
vivid recollections of the old burgh and its inhabitants. 
One of his agreeable remembrances related to the 
dancing-school, at which shone a pretty and lady-like 
girl, Jeanie Gibson, the noonday of whose married life 
had been clouded by a series of misfortunes in saddening 
contrast with the bright anticipations of her early morn- 
ing; and now, as he learned, her two elder sons were 
pushing their way on as booksellers in Leith WalL 
Sime's best feelings were interested. He made himself 
known to us, and a cordial intimacy ensued. Through 
him we became acquainted with Mr William Reid, a well- 
known bookseller in Leith, and a person of singularly 
genial disposition. Reid acted as a true friend. He 
occasionally looked in upon us to ofier a word of advice 
and encouragement, and was much pleased with my 
brother's specimens of writing, one of which con- 
sisted of a large sheet of extracts of Sir Walter Scott's 
poetry. Desirous to be useful to the struggling youth, 
Reid carried off the specimen to shew to his friend 
Constable, then in the zenith of his power. This cir- 
cumstance immediately led to an interview between the 
great publisher and my brother. The following is the 
account of what occurred, as given by Robert in the 
memoranda which have been latterly recovered : 

*It was proposed that I should wTite something of 
the same kind in the shape of a volume, which I should 
present to Sir Walter, with a letter of introduction from 
the publisher. The matter proposed by Mr Constable 
was the songs in the Lady of the Lake, which he seemed 
to indicate as being the poet's pet compositions. In the 
course of a few months 1 had finished my little volume 

i84 MEMOIR. 

with a neat title-page, and it was sent to Mr Constable 
at his own request, in order to be bound. It was not 
till February 1822 it was returned, along with the 
promised letter of introduction. Furnished with that 
document, I proceeded next day to the poet's residence 
in Castle Street, where I had the good-fortune to find 
him in his study. He received me, as he received every 
one who approached him, with a homely kindness of 
manner which at once placed me at my ease ; and 
having had the volume in his possession for some hours, 
he was able to express his surprise, and also that of his 
wife — for so he designated Lady Scott — at the extreme 
neatness and minuteness of the writing. He said he 
would place the book in his library at Abbotsford, and 
he was sure it would be considered as not the least 
curious of the many curiosities there deposited. He 
then made inquiries respecting my occupations, and 
having been informed that I dealt partly in old books, 
requested that I would let him know when I happened 
to possess any of particular rarity or value. After some 
further conversation I took my leave, astonished at the 
gentle and easy manners of a man whom I had been 
accustomed to regard as a superior order of being, and 
delighted with the reflection that I would ever have it to 
say, perhaps many years after he should be dead and 
gone, that I had seen and talked with him.' 

For Mr Constable's kindness in introducing him to 
Sir Walter Scott, my brother was peculiarly grateful, as 
may be gathered from a letter addressed to him, dated 
'Leith Walk, 25th February 1821.' The letter is 
embraced in the interesting work on his father by Mr 
Thomas Constable. After some enthusiastic expressions 
of gratitude, he adds : 


' I took the letter of introduction which you so kindly 
transmitted by Mr Reid, to Sir Walter Scott on Tuesday 
last, and was received by that gentleman in a manner so 
flattering, so condescending, so truly polite (and his polite- 
ness is the very essence of benevolence), that I could 
scarcely believe that I was the real object of so much 
attention, but rather that I was only acting some imaginary 
part in the pageant of a dream ! He praised my penman- 
ship so highly that I almost grew ashamed to hear one who 
is himself so far removed above all minute ingenuities 
become the flatterer of a merely tasteful curiosity. He had 
also shewn it to Lady Scott and to several of his friends, 
who all honoured it with the same commendation. I am 
now somewhat afraid that I stayed too long, for he rose 
first, as a signal for breaking up the interview, though I was 
not with him more than a quarter of an hour. I hope, 
however, if I have been guilty there, that really my excuse 
will readily be found in my only having endeavoured to take 
as long a draught as possible of the rich and bewitching 
bowl of his presence. In this interview, the enthusiastic 
wish of several years has been gratified — I have seen and 
spoken to Sir Walter Scott, and, like the comet which travels 
to the sun once in a thousand years, and lays in such a stock 
of heat and blazing glories as serves it in all its wander- 
ings through the coldest bounds of its orbit, I have received 
so much reflected greatness from my own near approach to 
this centre of the literary system, that the experience of a 
century of mere common prose life could scarcely expend it. 

* I hope, sir, that you will give me willing credit for my 
feelings when I declare that all the gratification of pride 
and ambition of distinction as an artist, and all the gracious 
circumstance of being noticed by the kindness of Sir 
Walter Scott, scarcely brought me half so satisfying and 
sincere a pleasure as the way in which my mother was 
elated by my honours, and participated in my feelings on the 
occasion. The first was a pleasure peculiarly of the soul, 
but this was a pleasure of the heart. Of all friends, a 

1 86 MEMOIR. 

mother is the most sympathising, whether in adversity or 

prosperity ; there is nothing could make her so happy as 

the honourable distinction of her son, and nothing so 
miserable as his debasement.' 

Some few additional particulars of the acquaintanceship 
with Sir Walter, so begun, are gathered from a letter 
which Robert wrote to Thomas Scott, a humble friend, 
a native of Roxburghshire, who had come about him 
at his small place of business, and to whom he afterwards 
freely communicated his thoughts on literary subjects. 
In the letter, which is dated from '32 Leith Walk, 14th 
July 1822, opposite the Botanic Gardens,' to which he 
had lately removed in order to be nearer Edinburgh, he 
mentions being visited by Alexander Campbell, editor 
of Albyn's Anthology, who had called at the request of 
Sir Walter — perhaps not alone to pay a compliment, 
but to see the nature of the young bookseller's establish- 
ment. Campbell, a worthy man, seems to have been 
saddened with the aspect of affairs — a mean low-roofed 
building with a book-stall at the door ; in the meagre 
interior, a modest and light-haired youth, poorly clad, 
apparently friendless so far as any substantial benefit 
was concerned, diligently exerting himself to eke out a 
slender means of subsistence by executing a scrap of 
ornamental caligraphy with a crow pen, the paper being 
laid on a shop shutter which was propped up to answer 
the purpose of a desk on the small counter. The old 
man's feelings were touched. The ingenuous youth, 
so tasking himself, surely deserved something better. 
Looking around him, and entering into conversation, 
Mr Campbell ventured to hint that by a proper appli- 
cation to Sir Walter, my brother could easily procure a 
means of livelihood superior to that which he now 


possessed. In a spirit of that delicacy and independ- 
ence for which he was signahsed, the hint was gently 
but firmly repudiated. He says, in describing the scene : 
* I declined the well-meant proposal. I feel that 
degradation and misery would be preferable to demean- 
ing myself in the eyes of so great a man. Sir Walter 
Scott has so many claimants on his generosity, and is 
troubled by so many unreasonable requests, that I, with 
all my necessities, would feel degraded to invite his assist- 
ance, or even to anticipate by one moment the desire he 
might conceive for favouring me. The thought would 
be truly intolerable.' 

In short, Robert was resolved to fight on and trust to 
circumstances, in preference to putting himself in the 
light of a petitioner. He would drudge, labour, sufifer 
— almost starve, as some might think — but even in the 
gloom which shrouded him, he was too proud to petition 
for special favour. He venerated Sir Walter Scott almost 
to adoration, but he disdained to trouble him with his 
necessities, or to encroach on his beneficence. What a 
lesson to the young, who are inconsiderately prone to be 
on the outlook for patrons, it may be at the sacrifice of 
personal independence along with a lifelong feeling of 
abasement 1 We shall see that the self-reliant policy 
proved quite as successful as it was commendable. 

Following on the account of the interview with 
Campbell, Robert narrates what took place at a busi- 
ness mission to Sir Walter Scott, at his town residence, 
39 Castle Street. ' I called,' he says, ' on Sir Walter 
last Wednesday, with the purpose of shewing him a few 
curious old books, and a catalogue of more which I 
happened to have the power of selling. He made an 
apology for never having come down the Walk to see 

1 88 MEMOIR. 

me as he promised ; and bought the two volumes I had 
taken with me ; besides desiring me to bring up some, 
which he pointed out in the hst, next morning at nine 
o'clock. I was punctual, you may be sure, to my 
appointment ; and had the happiness of seeing him 
again in his own study. I stood within two feet of a 
sheet of paper, which he had written about half down 
the page. Perhaps it was the next new novel ! He 
bought other three volumes, giving me an excellent 
price. I paste a small piece of a bank-note which I got 
out of his own hand upon the present letter. \Here a 
stnall trians;ular piece of dingy paper cut from the cor7ier of 
a Scotch poujid-note is stuck by wax on the letter^ I need 
not tell you to regard it with veneration, and to preserve 
it with reverence. It would be a loss of twenty shillings 
to me, if I were to confer the same favour upon other 
thirty of my poetical, enthusiastic friends ! The most 
important and remarkable circumstance of this interview, 
was Sir Walter saying very kindly : " I shall always be 
very happy to hear from you, Mr Chambers, and to take 
an interest in your welfare." After which he good- 
morningised me out of the room. He seems confused 
in speaking, and forgets by the end of a topic what he 
said at the beginning ; as if he were fretting with impa- 
tience to get people away, and to sit down to his eternal 
task again. I did not see him above seven or eight 

These are trivial but not uninteresting memorials of 
an opening intercourse which ripened into an intimacy 
with the greatest of modern Scotsmen. The worst part 
of Robert's early struggle was about over. The dark 
cloud was passing away. The visit of George IV. to 
Edinburgh in August 1822, brought a windfall, as has 


been stated, to the painstaking youth. Sir Walter 
Scott, remembering his ability as a penman, zealously 
promoted his interests in this direction. For a time, 
he was kept busily employed in writing addresses to 
the king ; besides which he was commissioned by Sir 
Walter to transcribe into a volume, similar to the 
So7igs in the Lady of the Lake, the best of the poetical 
effusions that had been poured out on the occasion. 
By these several means his position was so materially 
improved, that his originally small stock had now 
increased to be worth about two hundred pounds; 
and, thanks to the superhuman work at the hand-press, 
I had made a similar, if not greater advance. There 
were, accordingly, some grounds for our resolving to 
move a little towards the front. In 1S23, my brother 
removed to India Place ; and about the same time 
I removed to Broughton Street; both places, as we 
diffidently ventured to hope, being intermediate to 
something better. 


Robert's writings — 1822 to 1832. 

A /f Y brother's literary efforts had hitherto been on a 
^ ^ hmited scale. He had composed some pieces, 
remarkable, perhaps, for his years and the untoward 
circumstances in which he was placed ; but, except by 
a few acquaintances, none augured that he would make 
any progress as an author. His first production, not a 
very high flight, was entitled Illustraiions of the Author 
of Waverley. It consisted of short sketches of several 
individuals, chiefly connected with the south of Scot- 
land, popularly believed to have been the originals of 
characters in the earlier fictions of Sir Walter Scott, 
as, for example, Davie Gellatley, Dominie Sampson, 
Meg Merrilies, and Dandie Dinmont. The south- 
country people who came about us formed a convenient 
source of information on the subject. 

As in the case of young writers with their first pro- 
ductions, Robert was in a difiiculty about a publisher 
for his Illustrations. He or I in our humble way 
of business could scarcely be thought of. Interested in 
all we were about, and anxious for our advancement, my 
mother was of opinion that Mr Constable, for whom 


she entertained a high opinion, should be applied to. 
Robert, accordingly, after having matured his plan, 
ventured to write to that eminent bookseller, asking 
his advice and assistance. The letter, dated from 
Leith Walk, 13th May 1822, affords a good idea of that 
earnestness of purpose which animated my brother 
at the outset of his literary career, and which indeed 
carried him tlirough life. Addressing Mr Constable, 
he says : 

* Since I concluded the long task of writing the songs 
in the Lady of the Lake which, through your kind means, 
I am proud to acknowledge, has turned out so happily for 
me, I have again resumed the literary pursuits which had 
been then, and frequently before, interrupted by the less 
favourite practice of ornamental penmanship ; and have 
now nearly finished a work which, in my opinion, would 
excite a pretty high interest in the world, if ushered forth 
in the proper manner, which it would require either your 
interfering attention to assist, or your name to render 

' I have myself employed much labour of research, and 
have engaged in the same cause many friends in the coimtr)^, 
who have better opportunities in discovering the originals of 
characters supposed to be fictitiously described in the works 
of the author of Wavcrley j and I have already prepared a 
considerable number of notices and anecdotes of such as I 
have been so fortunate as to find, which are certainly of a 
very amusing and humorous nature. I include in the design 
descriptions of real scenes, manners, and incidents, intro- 
duced into these glorious productions, and historical sketches 
of remarkable personages, upon whose actions some of them 
have been so interestingly founded. 

'The performance of this work I will execute with such 
an absolute abstraction from all catchpenny or invidious 
intents, that none of its information can ever at all tend to 
deteriorate the fame or character of our national novelist in 

192 MEMOIR. 

regard to his being an author oi purely original conceptions, 
but will rather appear as a series of entertaining stories and 
anecdotes, which derive their chief and most immediate 
interest from their reference to these works, and are other- 
wise wholly abstract, independent, and relying on their own 
deserts. . . . 

* I had proposed the printing of this work to my brother, 
who has lately, with an ingenuity that does him honour, 
taken up that trade at his own hand ; and he so far encour- 
aged my design as to agree to throw off a thousand copies 
for the consideration of a third part of the impression. 
But upon second, or rather I should say sixtieth thoughts, I 
found out that to print it at such an obscure place as Leith 
Walk, and to publish it at the shop of such an unheard-of 
bookseller as your humble servant, would be at once to 
stamp it with ignominy, or what is precisely the same thing, 
obscurity. Wherefore, I have now, by the advice of my 
mother — who wonders, good woman, what can have set me 
upon such high designs against the world — to go at once 
to the fountain-head of respectability, and proffer the fruits 
of my industry to you. 

' I do not myself entertain the slightest doubt that you 
could bring my intentions to a profitable issue ; but objec- 
tions may perhaps occur to you which I am too nearly 
interested to observe. You may perhaps, however, be able 
to favour me with your advice in the affair, at all events, if 
with that alone I am to be content. 

' You will do me infinite happiness by writing to me as 
soon as convenient. Should you be so kind as desire it, I 
can hand you a specimen of any of my manuscript imme- 
diately ; and I could have the whole work ready for the 
press in two, or at farthest three months from this date. — In 
the meanwhile, I remain, sir, your most humble servant, 

Robert Chambers.' 

The attempt to induce Mr Constable to launch the 
Illustrations, failed, and Robert was left no other resource 


than to engage me as publisher as well as printer, and I 
may add bookbinder ; for, after setting the types (in my 
best long-primer), and working off the impression, con- 
sisting of a thousand copies, I put the whole in boards 
with a pinkish paper cover and white back-title. The 
small volume was embellished with a likeness of Rob 
Roy, produced from a copper-plate bought cheap from 
an engraver. Such was my brother's first book, the 
Illustrations of the Author of Waverley. Though far from 
being attractive in appearance, it was well received. 
The copies printed were sold off to some pecuniary 
advantage, and the writer won that amount of reputation 
which encouraged him to persevere in his etilbrts. He 
had fortunately brought himself into the notice of an 
Edinburgh publisher, who undertook to bring out the 
book in better style. A second and more extended 
edition was therefore issued in 1824, and it helped 
materially to improve Robert's chances as an author. 
In this new edition of the Illustrations, the likeness of 
Rob Roy was dismissed ; its place as a frontispiece being 
taken by an engraving of Sir Walter Scott, but with the 
face hid by a curtain — a hint as to who was the Great 

In a book which speculated on the identification of 
actual scenes, incidents, and characters with what had 
given rise to the fictions of the novelist, it would have 
been strange if the writer had not sometimes gone a 
little wide of the mark. According to the Introduction 
to tlie annotated edition of the Monastery, an erroneous 
conjecture had been hazarded respecting Captain 
Clutterbuck, who, not a little to the surprise uf Sir 
Walter, was identified with a friend and neighbour of 
his own. Apart, however, from misapprehensions of 

194 MEMOIR. 

this kind, the TUustrations pointed, in a wonderfully 
correct manner, at the originals of some of the principal 
characters in the earlier novels, and contained some 
amusing sketches, the result of observation. 

Among the persons by whom my brother was aided 
in gathering together materials for the Illustrations was 
Thomas Scott, already mentioned as being a native of 
Roxburghshire, who came about him while in Leith Walk, 
and to whom he afterwards wrote a number of letters, 
which were long fondly cherished, and have latterly and 
unexpectedly come into my possession. In one of these 
letters, dated 1820, he speaks of a widow lady and her 
daughters who inhabited the floor immediately over his 
place of business, and with whom, through kindred 
musical tastes, he happened to become acquainted. The 
young ladies, as we learn, sang and played on the piano- 
forte beautifully, and their singing was listened to by 
my brother as if coming from a choir of angels. The 
performances of Lilias, one of these youthful divinities — 
there is always 07ie who reaches perfection — conveyed 
the most delightful sensations. When at night, he lay 
down in his dingy back-room, and heard the warbling 
of Lilias overhead, he could scarcely do less than give 
utterance to his feelings in a poetical effusion, a copy of 
which appears in his letter to Scott: 


When balmy sleep, in gloom of night, 

My life from all it was redeemed, 
I dreamed a dream of fond delight. 

For scarce a waking bliss it seemed. 
I heard a voice that softly sung 

A strain I knew, but could not nnnae, 
And aye, methought, I knew the tongue 

From whence the mellow music came. 


It rose, it fell, it died away 

Upon the rapture-feasted ear. 
But still the breeze that murmured by, 

Came fraught with sounds I strained to hear. 
It rose again, a gentle swell 

Of Nature's purest melody ; 
And every former sound was still, 

Save that alone so dear to me. 

Robert's acquaintance with this accompHshed musical 
family was not broken off by his removal to Edinburgh- 
It continued for some time, during which Lilias was the 
inspiring heroine of a poetical effusion more tender than 
the preceding, and a copy of which is procured from his 
correspondence with William Wilson, another early 
acquaintance. Wilson was a young man of about his 
own age, who had similar poetical and archKological 
tastes, and for a time edited a literary periodical in 
Dundee. Between the two there sprung up an extra- 
ordinary friendship, which was not weakened by Wilson 
some years later emigrating to America, and setting up 
as a bookseller at Poughkeepsie, a pretty town on the 
Hudson, in the state of New York. The letters which 
passed between them bring into view a number of 
particulars concerning my brother's literary aims and 
efforts. The poetical effusion just referred to was as 
follows. For the sake of euphony, Robert calls the 
heroine Leila : 

FAIR I.EILA'S eyes. 

Fair Leila's eyes, fair Leila's eyes, 
Oft (ill my breast with glad surprise — 
Surprise and love, and hope and pride, 
With many a glowing thought beside. 

The light that lies in Leila's eyes, 
No trick of vain allurement tries, 

196 MEMOIR. 

But sheds a soft and constant beam, 
Like moonlight on the tranquil stream ; 
Yet as the seas from pole to pole 
Move at yon gentle orb's control, 
So tumults in my bosom rise 
Beneath the charm of Leila's eyes. 
Fair Leila's eyes, fair Leila's eyes, &c. 

For Leila's eyes I 'd gladly shun 
The flaunting glare of Fortune's sun, 
And to the humble shade betake. 
Which they a brighter heaven could make. 
The wildfire lights I once pursued 
Should ne'er again my steps delude : 
I 'd fix my faith, and only prize 
The steadfast light of Leila's eyes. 
/ s 1 / ^'^vc Leila's eyes, fair Leila's eyes, &c. 

Notwithstanding an ardent and mutual affection, 
Leila was not destined to be my brother's wife. Her 
mother, from extreme prudential considerations, abruptly 
terminated the intimacy. Robert was not supposed to 
be in the category of an eligible ; and it was rashly 
assumed that he might never possibly be so. It was 
a hapless decision, to which, considering his still 
comparatively humble circumstances, he refrained from 
offering any opposition; nor did he by any indirect 
means try to influence the feelings of Leila. He would 
do nothing to bring her down from the sphere in which 
she moved under the parental administration. Acqui- 
escing, perhaps with a sigh, in her mother's notions of 
what was right and commendable, Leila was in due 
time wedded to another. Her marriage, as will after- 
wards appear, proved particularly unfortunate, and 
became the source of acutely painful recollections. 
With a little patience and foresight, things would have 


ended otherwise ; for Robert's literary successes soon 
placed him in a position which had not been at all 

After being settled in India Place, he carried out the 
design of writing the Traditiofis of Edinburgh, a work for 
which he was in a degree prepared by those youthful 
explorations already adverted to, as well as by his having 
meditated over the subject. Professedly, the book was 
to consist of amusing particulars concerning old houses, 
distinguished characters, and curious incidents, such as 
could be picked up from individuals then still living, 
who had some remembrance of the Scottish capital 
in the early part of the reign of George III., when 
persons of rank were as yet dwellers in the tall 
tenements and dingy closes of the Old Town. One 
gentleman in the decline of life remembered as many as 
fifty titled personages, some of them of historical note, 
who dwelt in the Canongate (formerly the Court end of 
the town) as lately as 1769. There were others whose 
recollections did not extend so far back, but who in 
youth had been acquainted with interesting public 
characters who had disappeared. By procuring infor- 
mation from these various individuals regarding a past 
state of things, traditions were gathered together which 
in a few years later would have entirely vanished. 

The Traditions, thus happily thought of while there 
were still living memories to draw upon, well suited the 
antiquarian and historical tastes of my brother, and 
he entered on the work with the keenest possible 
relish. Yet, in a business point of view, he and I 
were alike diffident as to the undertaking. Neither of 
us being able to risk the loss of even a few pounds, 
we announced that the work would be issued in 

1 98 MEMOIR. 

numbers as soon as a hundred subscribers were obtained. 
The requisite subscribers were in no long time pro- 
cured ; the work was put to press ; and the first 
number pubhshed in March 1824. It met with such 
success, that it had to be reprinted, and the sale of 
the book increased until all the numbers were issued, 
forming when complete two volumes post octavo. I 
was, of course, the printer and publisher, the whole 
case and press work being, as hitherto, executed with 
my own hands — a piece of duty of which I entertain a 
pleasant remembrance. 

There was much family exultation over Robert's 
successful achievement, regarding which there were 
sundry congratulations from persons whose good opinion 
it was important to obtain. Writing to his friend Wilson, 
whom he always addressed as his ' dear Willie,' he refers 
gratifyingly to the Traditions, and the manner in which 
the book had brought him into notice : ' This little work 
is taking astonishingly, and I am getting a great deal of 
credit by it. It has also been the means of introducing 
me to many of the most respectable leading men of the 
town, and has attracted to me the attention of not a few 
of the most eminent literary characters. What would 
you think, for instance, of the venerable author of the 
ATan of Feeling calling on me in his carriage to con- 
tribute his remarks in manuscript on my work ! The 
value of the above two great advantages is incalculable 
to a young tradesman and author like me. It saves me 
twenty years of mere laborious plodding by the common 
walk, and gives me at twenty-two all the respectability 
which I could have expected at forty.' 

To Mr Constable, to whom the project of the 
Traditions had been confided, he writes, July 15, 1S24: 


*In fulfilment of your sanguine predictions, the work 
has taken in a most astonishing manner.' Elated by 
this remarkable success, and with overwrought expecta- 
tions as to further sales, a new and inconsiderately large 
edition was executed, which led to some inconvenience. 
Perceiving when it was too late that the thing was 
overdone, my brother in a dejected mood wrote to Mr 
Constable, who had been most friendly throughout, 
asking for his counsel on the subject. His letter is 
dated April 6, 1825. *I want,' says he, 'your advice: 
the vastness of the edition is too much for my slender 
and ill-formed capital, and I begin to feel the distresses 
of premature and ill-judged speculation. No doubt, the 
thing will ultimately pay, and well, but then, how am I 
to keep afloat till I reach thr^ ahore ? Come weal, come 
woe, I have therefore made up my mind to extricate 
myself from the miseries of publication, so that I can only 
get anything like a fair remuneration for the literary part 
of the property. I shall try to see you to-morrow, and 
hope your goodness will unite with your sense and 
experience in pointing out the path I should choose.' 

Arising out of these perplexities, and as wished by 
my brother, I waited on Mr Constable at his place of 
business in Princes Street. It was the only time I had the 
honour of conversing with this distinguished bookseller ; 
the interview taking place at the period of an impending 
crisis in his affairs, of which, however, I was ignorant, 
I was received with the urbanity for which Mr Constable 
was noted. On my giving explanations regarding the 
work, he advised the transmission of a large portion 
of the superfluous edition to Messrs Hurst, Robinson, 
and Company, his correspondents in London, to whom 
he would write recommending the book to tlieir 

200 MEMOIR, 

attention as publishers. Some large packages were 
accordingly sent. But after a little time, the adventure 
seemed so unsatisfactory, that I went to London to see 
after matters. 

It was on a fine summer evening in 1825, that, arriving 
by a steamer in the Thames, I first visited the metropoHs. 
The circumstance is to be specially remembered by me. 
It being too late to pursue my business mission, I 
bethought myself of calling on Mr John Clark, of 
Westminster, an artist whom I had accidentally met 
hi Scotland the previous year, when taking views of 
the principal towns. A long walk brought me to Mr 
Clark's door. It was opened by a sprightly young lady, 
his daughter, whom I had never seen before. The inter- 
view with the family was agreeable. An intimacy ensued. 
And some years afterwards, when the fates were pro- 
pitious, the sprightly young lady who had chanced to 
open the door became my wife. 

Turning from this romantic episode. On the day after 
my arrival in London, I visited the publishing concern 
in Cheapside to which the Traditions had been con- 
signed, and concluding that things looked ill, I ordered 
the whole stock to be returned. The decision was 
fortunate ; for Hurst, Robinson, and Company shortly 
afterwards succumbed in the general storm of bankruptcy 
in which Sir Walter Scott, the Ballantynes, and Archibald 
Constable were lucklessly involved. We lost nothing. 
To wind up the affair, the stock and copyright of the 
Traditions were disposed of to W^illiam Tait, for a sum 
of between three and four hundred pounds. In this 
way, everything terminated happily. What became 
of the money, will afterwards appear. In better days, 
when circumstances permitted, we were able to purchase 


back the copyright, and execute fresh and improved 
editions of the work. In an introductoiy notice to a 
new edition in 1868, Robert, at my request, gave the 
following account of the manner in which the book was 
produced and received : 

* I am about to do what very few could do without 
emotion — revise a book which I wrote forty-five years 
ago. This little work came out in the Augustan days 
of Edinburgh, when Jeffrey and Scott, Wilson and the 
Ettrick Shepherd, Dugald Stewart and Alison, were 
daily giving the productions of their minds to the public, 
and while yet Archibald Constable acted as the un- 
questioned emperor of the publishing world. I was 
then an insignificant person of the age of twenty ; yet, 
destitute as I was both of means and friends, I formed 
the hope of writing something which would attract 
attention. The subject I proposed was one lying readily 
at hand, the romantic things connected with Old Edin- 
burgh. If, I calculated, a fivstj>arf ox .nmnber could be 
issued, materials for others might be expected to come 
in, for scores of old inhabitants, even up perhaps to the 
very " oldest," would then contribute their reminiscences. 

' The plan met with success. Materials almost 
unbounded came to me, chiefly from aged professional 
and mercantile gentlemen, who usually, at my first 
introduction to them, started at my youthful appearance, 
having formed the notion that none but an old person 
would have thought of writing such a book. A friend 
gave me a letter to Mr Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, who, 
I was told, knew the scandal of the time of Charles II. 
as well as he did the merest gossip of the day, and had 
much to say regarding the good society of a hundred 
years ago. 

202 MEMOIR. 

' Looking back from the year 1868, 1 feel that C. K. S. 
has himself become, as it were, a tradition of Edin- 
burgh. His thin effeminate figure, his voice pitched m 
alt. — his attire, as he took his daily walks on Princes 
Street, a long blue frock-coat, black trousers, rather 
wide below, and sweeping over white stockings and neat 
shoes — something like a web of white cambric round 
his neck, and a brown wig coming down to his eye- 
brows — had long established him as what is called a 
character. He had recently edited a book containing 
many stories of diablerie, and another in which the 
original narrative of ultra-presbyterian church history 
had to bear a series of cavalier notes of the most 
mocking character. He had a quaint biting wit, which 
people bore as they would a scratch from a provoked 
cat. Essentially, he was good-natured, and fond of 
merriment. He had considerable gifts of drawing, and 
one caricature portrait by him of Queen Elizabeth 
dancing, "high and disposedly," before the Scotch 
ambassadors, is the delight of everybody who has seen 
it He was intensely aristocratic, and cared nothing 
for the interests of the great multitude. He complained 
that one never heard of any gentlefolks committing 
crimes now-a-days, as if that were a disadvantage to 
them or the public. Any case of a Lady Jane 
stabbing a perjured lover would have delighted him. 
While the child of whim, Mr Sharpe was generally 
believed to possess respectable talents, by which, with 
a need for exerting them, he might have achieved 
distinction. His ballad of the " Murder of Caerlave- 
rock," in the Minstrelsy, is a masterly production ; and 
the concluding verses haunt one like a beautiful strain 
of music : 


" To sweet Lincluden's haly cells 
Fu' dowie I '11 repair ; 
There Peace wi' gentle Patience dwells, 
Nae deadly feuds are there. 

In tears I 'II wither ilka charm, 

Like draps o' balefu' yew ; 
And wail the beauty that could harm 

A knight sae brave and true." 

* After what I had heard and read of Charles Sharpe, 
I called upon him at his mother's house, No. 93 Princes 
Street, in a somewhat excited frame of mind. His 
servant conducted me to the first floor, and shewed me 
into what is generally called aniongst us the back 
drawing-room, which I found carpeted with green cloth, 
and full of old family portraits, some on the walls, but 
many more on the floor. A small room leading off 
this one behind, was the place where Mr Sharpe gave 
audience. Its diminutive space was stufted full of old 
curiosities, cases with family bijouterie, &c. One petty 
object was strongly indicative of the man — a calling- 
card of Lady Charlotte Campbell, the once adored 
beauty, stuck into the frame of a picture. He must 
have kept it at that time about thirty years. On 
appearing, Mr Sharpe received me very cordially, telling 
me he had seen and been pleased with my first two 
numbers. Indeed, he and Sir Walter Scott had talked 
together of writing a book of the same kind in company, 
and calling it Reekiana, which plan, however, being 
anticipated by me, the only thing that remained for him 
was to cast any little matters of the kind he possessed 
into my care. I expressed myself duly grateful, and 
took my leave. The consequence was, the appearance 
of notices regarding the eccentric Lady Anne Dick, tlie 

204 MEMOIR. 

beautiful Susanna, Countess of Eglintoune, the Lord 
Justice-clerk Alva, and the Duchess of Queensberry (the 
" Kitty " of Prior), before the close of my first volume. 
Mr Sharpe's contributions were all of them given in 
brief notes, and had to be written out on an enlarged 
scale, with what I thought a regard to literary effect as 
far as the telling was concerned. 

' By an introduction from Dr Chalmers, I visited a 
living lady who might be considered as belonging to 
the generation at the beginning of the reign of George 
III. Her husband, Alexander Murray, had, I believe, 
been Lord North's solicitor-general for Scotland. She 
herself, born before the Porteous Riot, and well re- 
membering the Forty-five, was now within a very brief 
space of the age of a hundred. Although she had not 
married in her earlier years, her children, Mr Murray 
of Henderland and others, were all elderly people. I 
found the venerable lady seated at a window in her 
drawing-room in George Street, with her daughter, Miss 
Murray, taking the care of her which her extreme age 
required, and with some help from this lady, we had a 
conversation of about an hour. She spoke with due 
reverence of her mother's brother, the Lord Chief- 
justice Mansfield ; and when I adverted to the long 
pamphlet against him written by Mr Andrew Stuart at 
the conclusion of the Douglas Cause, she said that, to 
her knowledge, he had never read it, such being his 
practice in respect of all attacks made upon him, lest 
they should disturb his equanimity in judgment. As 
the old lady was on intimate terms with Boswell, and 
had seen Johnson on his visit to Edinburgh — as she 
was the sister-in-law of Allan Ramsay the painter, and 
had hved in the most cultivated society of Scotland all 


her long life — there were ample materials for conversa- 
tion with her ; but her small strength made this shorter 
and slower than I could have wished. When we came 
upon the poet Ramsay she seemed to have caught new 
vigour from the subject : she spoke with animation of 
the child-parties she had attended in his house on 
the Castlehill during a course of ten years before his 
death — an event which happened in 1757. He was 
" charming," she said ; he entered so heartily into the 
plays of children. He, in particular, gained their hearts 
by making houses for their dolls. How pleasant it was 
to learn that our great pastoral poet was a man who, 
in his private capacity, loved to sweeten the daily life 
of his fellow-creatures, and particularly of the young ! 
At a warning from Miss Murray, I had to tear myself 
away from this delightful and never-to-be-forgotten 

' I had, one or two years before, when not out of my 
teens, attracted some attention from Sir Walter Scott, 
by writing for him and presenting (through Mr Con- 
stable) a transcript of the songs of the Lady of the Lake, 
in a style of peculiar caligraphy, which I practised for 
want of any better way of attracting the notice of people 
superior to myself. When George IV. some months 
nfterwards came to Edinburgh, good Sir Walter re- 
membered me, and procured for me the business of 
writing the address of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 
to his Majesty, for which I was handsomely paid. 
Several other learned bodies followed the example, for 
Sir Walter Scott was the arbiter of everything during 
that frantic time, and thus I was substantially benefited 
by his means. 

'According to what Mr Constable told me, the great 


2o6 MEMOIR. 

man liked me, in part because he understood I was 
from Tvveedside. On seeing the eariier numbers of the 
Traditions, he expressed astonishment as to " where the 
boy got all the information." But I did not see or hear 
from him till the first volume had been completed. He 
then called upon me one day, along with Mr Lockhart. 
I was overwhelmed with the honour, for Sir Walter 
Scott was almost an object of worship to me. I 
literally could not utter a word. While I stood silent, 
I heard him tell his companion that Charles Sharpe was 
a writer in the Traditio7is, and taking up the volume, 
he read aloud what he called one of his quai?it bits. 
" The ninth Earl of Eglintoune was one of those 
patriarchal peers who live to an advanced age — 
indefatigable in the frequency of their marriages and 
the number of their children — who linger on and on, 
with an unfailing succession of young countesses, and 
die at last leaving a progeny interspersed throughout 
the whole of Douglas's Peerage, two volumes, folio, re- 
edited by Wood." And then both gentlemen went on 
laughing for perhaps two minutes with interjections : 
" How like Charlie !" — " What a strange being he is !" 
— " Two volumes, folio, re-edited by Wood — ha, ha, ha ! 
There you have him past all doubt ;" and so on. I was 
too much abashed to tell Sir Walter that it was only an 
impudent little bit of writing of my own, part of the 
solution into which I had diffused the actual notes of 
Sharpe. But, having occasion to write next day to Mr 
Lockhart, I mentioned Sir Walter's mistake ; and he 
was soon after good enough to inform me that he had 
set his friend right as to the authorship, and they had 
had a second hearty laugh on the subject. 

' A very few days after this visit, Sir Walter sent me, 


along with a kind letter, a packet of manuscript, con- 
sisting of sixteen folio pages, in his usual close hand- 
writing, and containing all the reminiscences he could 
at the time summon up of old persons and things in 
Edinburgh. Such a treasure to me ! And such a gift 
from the greatest literaiy man of the age to the 
humblest ! Is there a literary man of the present age 
who would scribble as much for any humble aspirant? 
Nor was this the only act of liberality of Scott to me. 
When I was preparing a subsequent work, The Popular 
Rhymes of Scotla?i(i, he sent me whole sheets of his 
recollections, with appropriate explanations. For years 
thereafter, he allowed me to join him in his walks home 
from the Parliament House, in the course of which he 
freely poured into my greedy ears anything he knew 
regarding the subjects of my studies. His kindness and 
good-humour on these occasions were untiring. I have 
since found, from his journal, that I had met him on 
certain days when his heart was overladen with woe. 
Yet his welcome to me was the same. After 1826, 
liowever, I saw him much less frequently than before, 
for I knew he grudged every moment not spent in 
thinking and working on the fatal tasks he had assigned 
to himself for the redemption of his debts. 

' All through the preparation of this book, I was 
indebted a good deal to a gentleman who was neither a 
literary man nor an artist himself, but hovered round 
the outskirts of both professions, and might be con- 
sidered as a useful adjunct to both. Every votary of 
pen or pencil amongst us knew David Bridges at his 
drapery establishment in the Lawnmarket, and many 
had been indebted to his obliging disposition. A quick, 
dark-eyed little man, with lips full of sensibility and a 

2o8 MEMOIR. 

tongue xmloving of rest, such a man in a degree as one 
can suppose Garrlck to have been, he held a sort of 
court every day, where wits and painters jostled with 
people wanting coats, jerkins, and spotted handkerchiefs. 
The place was small, and had no saloon behind ; so, 
whenever David had got some '' bit " to shew you, he 
dragged you down a dark stair to a packing-place, 
lighted only by a grate from the street, and there, amidst 
plaster-casts numberless, would fix you with his glittering 
eye, till he had convinced you of the fine handling, the 
" buttery touches " (a great phrase with him), the 
admirable "scummling" (another), and so forth. It was 
in the days prior to the Royal Scottish Academy and its 
exhibitions ; and it was left in a great measure to David 
Bridges to bring forward aspirants in art. Did such a 
person long for notice, he had only to give David one 
of his best "bits," and in a short time he would find 
himself chattered into fame in that profound, the grate 
of which I never can pass without recalling something 
of the buttery touches of those old days. The Black- 
wood wits, who laughed at everything, fixed upon our 
friend the title of " Director-general of the Fine Arts," 
which was, however, too much of a truth to be a jest. 
To this extraordinary being I had been introduced 
somehow, and, entering heartily into my views, he 
brought me information, brought me friends, read and 
criticised my proofs, and would, I daresay, have written 
the book itself if I had so desired. It is impossible to 
think of him without a smile, but at the same time a 
certain melancholy, for his life was one which, I fear, 
proved a poor one for himself. 

' Before the Traditions were finished, I had become 
favourably acquainted with many gentlemen of letters 


and others, who were pleased to think that Old Edin- 
burgh had been chronicled. Wilson gave me a laudatory 
sentence in the Nodes Ambrosiatm. The Eard of Ettrick, 
viewing my boyish years, always spoke of and to me as 
an unaccountable sort of person, but never could be 
induced to believe otherwise than that I had written all 
my traditions from my own head. I had also the 
pleasure of enjoying some intercourse with the venerable 
Henry Mackenzie, who had been bom in 1745, but 
always seemed to feel as if the Maji of Feeling had been 
written only one instead of sixty years ago, and as if 
there was nothing particular in antique occurrences. 
The whole affair was pretty much of a triumph at the 
time. Now, when I am giving it a final revision, I 
reflect with touched feelings, that all the brilliant men of 
the time when it was written are, without an exception, 
passed away, while, for myself, I am forced to claim the 
benefit of Horace's humanity : 

*• Solve senescentem mature sanus equum, ne 
Peccet ad extremum ridendus, et ilia ducat." ' * 

In this recent edition of the Traditions are compre- 
hended a variety of particulars gathered since the first 
appearance of the work, and calculated to heighten the 
legendary picture of Old Edinburgh. A great propor- 
tion of this new matter was drawn from a small work 
which my brother wrote under the title of Reekiana^ 
which appeared some years later. The new edition of 
the Traditions is therefore a considerable improvement 
on the old. 

Contemporaneously with the issue of the Traditions, 

* Discreetly unharness in good time a liurse growing old, lest iu 
Ihc end he make a miserable break-down. 


my brother produced a small work to help the fund 
raised on behalf of the sufferers by a series of calamitous 
fires in Edinburgh, in November 1824. It consisted of 
a popular account of the chief Fires which have occurred 
in Edinburi^h since the beginning of the eighteenth century. 
In the excitement of the moment, it had a considerable 
sale, and was so far useful. 

The success of the Traditions encouraged the prepara- 
tion of a companion to that work, applying to the 
general features of the city, and pardy devoted to the 
service of strangers. It was styled IVaiks in Edinbwgh, 
and was issued in 1S25. From the pleasing anecdotic 
style in which the book was written, it was well received, 
and added to the literary repute of the -writer. 

Diligent, painstaking, and with a love of what was 
old and characteristic, Robert had for some time been 
collecting a variety of familiar sayings in rhyme, and 
these appeared early in 1826, under the title oi Popular 
Rhymes of Scotland. As has been already mentioned. 
Sir Walter Scott, with his accustomed kindness, forwarded 
some contributions to the work, which has passed 
through three editions. As regards the purport of this 
collection of national rhymes, the following explanation 
is given in the preface to the third and considerably 
extended edition : 

* Reared amidst friends to whom popular poetry 
furnished a daily enjoyment, and led by a tendency of 
my own mind to delight in whatever is quaint, whimsical, 
and old, I formed the wish, at an early period of life, 
to complete, as I considered it, the collection of the 
traditionary verse of Scotland, by gathering together 
and publishing all that remained of a multitude of 
rhjTiies and short snatches of verse applicable to places, 


families, natural objects, amusements, &c., wherewith, 
not less than by song and ballad, the cottage fireside 
was amused in days gone past, while yet printed books 
were only familiar to comparatively few. This task was 
executed as well as circumstances would permit, and a 
portion of the Popular Rhymes of Scotland was pub- 
lished in 1826. Other objects have since occupied 
me, generally of a graver kind ; yet amidst them all, I 
have never lost my wish to complete the publication 
of these relics of the old ?iaiural literature of my native 

Next in succession after the Popular Rhytnes, he, in 
1826, produced the Picture of Scotland, a work in two 
volumes, the materials for which had been gathered 
together by a succession of toilsome peregrinations over 
a large part of the country, exclusively of previous his- 
torical studies. An ardent attachment to Scotland had 
led him to undertake the work; for, as he said: 'Instead 
of the pilgrim's scallop in my hat, I took for motto the 
glowing expression of Burns — " I have no dearer aim 
than to make leisurely journeys through Caledonia; to 
sit on the fields of her battles ; to wander on the roman- 
tic banks of her streams ; and to muse by the stately 
towers of venerable ruins, once the homesteads of her 
heroes.'" In the main topographical, the book compre- 
hended an interlarding of native anecdote and humour, 
along with illustrations of the manners of a ^^ast age. 
' The reclamation of that which is altogether poetry — 
the wonderful, beautiful past,' he adds, was a primary 
object of the book, being ' conscious and certain that, 
though many of his own generation may not give him 
credit for so exalted a purpose, the people who shall 
afterwards inherit this romantic land will appreciate 

212 MEMOIR. 

what could not have been preserved but with a view to 
their gratification.' 

The Picture of Scotland was followed in rapid suc- 
cession by several works which still further extended 
Robert's popularity as a writer. The quantity of literary 
work of one kind or other which he went through 
during some years at this period was astonishing, more 
particularly when we know that he continued to give a 
certain degree of attention daily to business. Indeed, 
with all his love of letters, he by no means relied on his 
efforts with the pen. He used to repeat a sage remark 
of Scott, that literature is a good cane to walk with, but 
not a staff to lean upon — an observation too apt to be 
neglected by young and inexperienced wTiters. 

Archibald Constable, in his attempts to revive a 
publishing business after the catastrophe of 1825, 
happily carried out a project which he had already 
conceived and initiated. This was the publication of a 
series of cheap and handy volumes in popular literature, 
specially Avritten by persons of tried ability for the 
undertaking, and designated Constable^ s Miscellany. In 
a letter to Mr Constable dated April 19, 1827, Robert 
offered to become a contributor. He says — * Observ- 
ing in your Prospectus that you intend to publish 
an account of the Rebellion of 1745, I beg to state 
that I have made considerable collections for such 
a work, and would be glad to get it a place among 
the "troops of the jMiscellany." My design is simply to 
give a popular narrative, with all the characteristic 
anecdotes, and I think the whole might go into one of 
your volumes. An Edinburgh bookseller, with whom 
I have already had some literary transactions, is 
inclined to think that my work might succeed in the 


extended and independent form of two volumes octavo ; 
but with deference to his opinion, which I feel to be 
highly flattering, I think the subject, interesting as it is, 
would scarcely warrant so massive a publication, nor 
could I give it a value sufficient to insure even the 
chance of success. . . . My work would be a good 
warrior, but one who could act to advantage only when 
forming an individual in a regular army, and under the 
command of an independent leader.' 

The work so proposed was accepted, and appeared 
in Constables Miscella?iy in 1828, as a History of the 
Rebellion of 1745, in two volumes. It was followed in 
the Miscellany at the close of the same year by 2l History 
of the Jvebellions i?i Seotland under the Marquis of 
Montrose and others from 1638 to 1660, in two volumes; 
this was followed, in 1829, by a History of the Rebellions 
in Scotland under Visco^mt Dundee and the Earl of Mar 
in 1689 and 1715, in one volume; and finally, in 
1830, Robert contributed the Life of James /, in two 
volumes. Such, however, was not the entire amount of 
his literary labour. He edited Scottish Ballads and 
Songs, three volumes (1829), and the Biographical Dic- 
tionary of Eminent Scotsmen, four volumes (1832-1834) ; 
besides which, he furnished Mr Lockhart with a variety 
of valuable notes for his Life of Robert Burns. With 
improved prospects by these and other means, my 
brother removed his bookselling business to Hanover 
Street, where the conducting of his establishment fell 
partly on James, who had been reared as a coadjutor. 

Of all the works which he so produced immediately 
after the Iraditions, that which attained the greatest 
and most enduring popularity was the History of the 
Rebellion of i-j^^, the materials fur which were gathered 

214 MEMOIR. 

from the principal sources of information available in 
1827. Several families, whose ancestors had been 
compromised in the insurrection, obligingly furnished 
traditional anecdotes for the work, which thereby 
assumed a character considerably different from one 
consisting of dry historical annals. While received with 
general approbation, the History of the Rebellion, from 
\.\\Q feeling with which it was written, led to a notion 
that it was the work of a Jacobite. Such seems to have 
been the opinion of a writer in the Quarterly Review, 
who, in reviewing Lord Mahon's History of Erigland 
(1839), refers to the 'many curious details, gleaned mth 
exemplary diligence, and presented in a lively enough 
style,' in the histories of the rebellions of 17 15 and 
1745, by 'Mr Robert Chambers, a bookseller and 
antiquary of Edinburgh,' adding : ' His Jacobitism 
seems that of a rampant Highlander 3 and we doubt 
not, had he flourished at the proper time, he would 
have handled his claymore gallantly ; nor are we at all 
surprised to hear that he enjoys considerable popularity 
among certain classes in Scotland; but we cannot 
anticipate that these historical performances will ever 
obtain a place in the English library.' 

To conclusions as to his supposed Jacobitism, my 
brother made some demur. He declared that he ' dis- 
approved of the insurrection of 1745, and held that it 
undoubtedly was a crime to disturb with war, and to 
some extent with rapine, a nation enjoying internal 
peace under a settled government. But, on the other 
hand, it was evident that those who followed Charles 
Edward acted according to tlieir lights, with heroic self- 
devotion, and were not fairly liable to the vulgar ridicule 
and vituperations thrown upon them by those whose 


duty it was to resist and punish them. Accordingly, it 
was just that the adventures of the persons concerned 
should be detailed with impartiality, and their unavoid- 
able misfortunes be spoken of with humane feeling.' 
Such is the vindicatory remark he makes in a prefatory 
note to the seventh edition of the work, issued as 
lately as 1869 ; and in the present day, few will be 
disposed to challenge the accuracy of this view of 
the matter. Whether this historical performance has 
obtained a place in what the reviewer is pleased to call 
* the English library,' I am not prepared to say, further 
than that, without adventitious aid, it has been very 
extensively diffused in all parts of Great Britain, and 
remains, to appearance, a generally received work on 
the subject. 

The new edition of the History just referred to has 
been so greatly extended as to be almost a new work. 
The prolific source of the fresh information that was 
obtained, was a collection of ten volumes in manuscript, 
styled on the title-pages the Lyon in Mourning, which 
had been prepared by the anxious care of the Right 
Rev. Bishop Forbes, of the Scottish Episcopal Church, 
and who was settled as a minister of that communion in 
Leith at the middle of the eighteenth century. Labouring 
under the suspicion that he was a Jacobite dangerous 
to the reigning dynasty, he was confined in Edinburgh 
Castle during the rebellion, and only liberated in 1746. 
By this means he was saved from the disasters of the 
falling cause, and brought into leisurely communication 
with a number of the insurgents, who were seized at 
various times and placed in confinement along with him. 
After regaining his liberty. Bishop Forbes prosecuted 
the design of collecting from the mouths and pens of the 

2i6 MEMOIR. 

survivors of the late enterprise such narratives, anec- 
dotes, and memorabilia as they could give from their 
own knowledge, or as eye-witnesses, respecting this 
extraordinary historical episode. The whole of the 
trustworthy information so acquired was written on 
octavo sheets, which in the end fonned volumes ; and 
nothing can exceed the neatness, distinctness, and 
accuracy with which the whole task appears to have 
been performed. In allusion to the woe of Scotland for 
her exiled race of princes, the ten volumes composing 
the work were bound in black, and styled the Lyon in 
Mourning. The poor bishop died in 1776, leaving the 
collection to his widow, who, after many years, sold it 
to Sir Henry Steuart of AUanton, who had been induced 
to turn his attention to the subject; and he commenced 
a work designed to present a historical review of the 
different attempts made to restore the Stewart family to 
the throne. The work had been carried a certain length, 
when it was interrupted by ill-health, and permanently 
laid aside. On a visit to Allanton House in 1832, my 
brother first heard of the Lyon, and was so fortunate as 
to have it assigned to him for literary purposes. The 
result (1834) was i\\e Jacob He Memoirs of the Rebellion of 
1745. But from the widespread information contained 
in the collection, were draw^n innumerable particulars of 
a deeply interesting kind for the revised edition of the 

Betw'een 1823 and 1835, Robert amused himself, and 
gave relief to his feelings, by occasionally writing poetical 
pieces, which he collected and printed in a volume for 
private circulation. His poetical powers did not aspire 
to be of a high or very original character, but there was 
a touching delicacy of sentiment and also much humour 


in some of his performances that gained the approbation 
of his friends. One of his eftusions purported to be 
written July 1829, in reference to the young lady, Miss 
Anne Kirkwood, to whom he was married in December 
of that year. 

Towards the close of 1831, he made what many 
may think a bold attempt in literature. It was, by a 
collection of sayings and anecdotes, * to vindicate, for 
the first time, the pretensions of the Scottish nation to 
the character of a witty and jocular, as they are already 
allowed to be a painstaking and enlightened, race.' 
The book, styled Scottish Jests and Anecdotes, certainly 
contained a prodigious array of good things, collected 
from all imaginable sources, including personal expe- 
rience in general society. It being the first attempt of 
the kind, the editor says he felt as if * entitled to some 
share of that praise which is so liberally bestowed upon 
discoverers like Cook and Parry, and might expect to 
be celebrated in after-ages as the first man who extended 
the geography of Fun beyond the Tweed.' That my 
brother had any merit in discovering that the Scotch 
are a * witty ' people, will be doubted by those who 
think them incapable of getting beyond a certain 
species of dry and caustic humour. One thing cer- 
tainly remarkable in all works purporting to be collec- 
tions of Scottish jests and anecdotes, is the abundance 
of droll sayings and doings of parish ministers, beadles, 
and old serving-men. With a number of amusing jocu- 
larities of this kind, the Scottish Jests and Anecdotes 
was pretty well received, and went through two editions ; 
after which, dropping out of notice, it was left for the 
late Very Rev. Dean Ramsay to take up the subject in 
that more earnest spirit which has insured a great share 
of public approbation. 

2i8 MEMOIR. 

We have not yet completed the review of literary 
work in which Robert was engaged from about 1829 
to 1832. Busied as he was, he undertook the editor- 
ship of the Edinburgh Advertiser, a newspaper of old 
standing, as well as an old style of politics, that has 
been latterly discontinued. In this line of duty, which 
was new to him, he gave much satisfaction by his 
assiduity and the tastefulness of his writing. 

Between Sir Walter Scott and my brother personal 
intercourse had now ceased, for the great novelist was 
a confirmed invalid at Abbotsford. Letters, however, 
passed between them, as is observable from Robert's 
private papers, sometimes in reference to literary 
matters, and on other occasions concerning the intro- 
ductions of strangers. A Miss MacLaughlin, with 
musical acquirements, having visited Edinburgh, be- 
sought for herself and her mother an introduction to Sir 
Walter, which being granted, the following letter was 
shortly afterwards received, dated from Abbotsford, 
March 7, 1831. 

' My dear Mr Chambers — I was quite happy to see 
Miss MacLaughlin, who is a fine enthusiastic girl, and very, 
very pretty withal. They — that is, her mother and she — 
breakfasted with me, though I had what is unusual at 
Abbotsford, no female assistance. However, we got on 
very well ; and I prepared the young lady a set of words to 
the air of Crochallan. But although Miss M. proposed to 
leave me a copy of the Celtic harmonies, I suppose the 
servant put it in her carriage. Purdie is the publisher. 
Will you get me a copy of the number containing Crochallan, 
with a prose translation by a competent person, and let me 
know the expense ? 

* I fear I cannot be of use to you in the way you propose, 
though I sincerely rejoice in your success, and would gladly 
promote it ; but Dr Abercrombie threatens me with death 


if I write so much. I must assist Lockhart a little, for you 
are aware of our connection, and he has always shewn me 
the duties of a son ; but except that, and my own necessary 
work at the edition of the Waverley Novels, as they call 
them, I can hardly pretend to be a contributor, for, after 
all, that same dying is a ceremony one would put off as long 
as he could. ... I am, dear Mr Chambers, very faithfully 
yours, Walter Scott.' 

The next letter received, which has the date Abbots- 
ford, August 2, 1 83 1, bears a melancholy record of Sir 
Walter's growing bodily weakness. 

'Dear Mr Chambers — I received your letter through 
Mr Cadell. It is impossible for a gentleman to say no to a 
request whicli flatters him more than he deserves. But 
even although it is said in the newspapers, I actually am 
far from well. I am keeping my head as cool as I can, and 
speak with some difficulty ; but I am unwilling to make a 
piece of work about nothing, and instead of doing so, I 
ought rather to receive the lady as civilly as I can. I am 
much out, riding, or rather crawling about my plantations 
in the morning, when the weather will permit ; but a card 
from Miss Eccles will find me at home, and happy to see 
her, although the effect is like to be disappointment to the 
lady. I am your faithful, humble servant. 

' I have owed you a letter longer than I intended ; but I 
write with pain, and generally use the hand of a friend. I 
sign with my initials, as enough to represent the poor half 
of me that is left, but am still much yours, W. S.' 

This appears to have been the last letter received by 
my brother from Sir Walter Scott. 



"D O BERT'S success with the Traditions, and my owti 
-'-^ progress in the new field I had selected, left 
nothing to regret. The * Dark Ages ' had vanished into 
the dim past. The medieval period had da-\vned. 
There was no longer a fierce skirmishing with diffi- 
culties, but there was much less drollery. As men get 
up in the world they, as a rule, take on the gravity 
which by immemorial usage pertains to what are called 
the respectable classes. They are likewise apt to part 
convoy with a number of individuals who have hitherto 
kept within hail. The reason is plain. Each, fiom 
choice, pursues his own peculiar course. Mankind 
are roughly divided, in unequal proportions, into two 
sets — those who consume day by day all they can lay 
their hands on, thinking no more of what is to be their 
fate in a year or ten years hence than the lower animals ; 
others — a much less numerous body — who are always 
looking ahead and acting with less or more regard to 
the future. What impressive examples one could 
produce of these differences of taste ! Two young men, 
of good education, start in life with pretty equal chances 
of success. One of them rises by gradations to be 

5<9.1/^ REMiyiSCENCES. 221 

Lord Chancellor : where do we find the other ? Seated 
with his back to the wall, drawing figures in red and 
white chalk on a smooth piece of pavement, in the 
hope of retiring to his evening haunt with the sum of 
half-a-crown in sixpences and halfpence, to be spent 
probably in the felicity of a carouse. That, we may 
presume, is the line of life he has deliberately preferred. 
■ He had worked for beggary, and he has got it. When 
a man will make no sacrifice of his pleasures, but sets 
his heart on freshly beginning the world every day, or 
every week, it is not difficult to do so. The facility 
with which the thing can be done explains much of 
what seems to perplex society and drive it almost to its 
wits' end. 
^ In the strange complication of human affairs, luck, no 
doubt, counts for something ; but have we properly con- 
sidered what is luck ? Surely, the business of life cannot 
be said to be conducted on the hap-hazard principles ' , 
of a game of roulette ! Is there no pre-arrangement — 
no Providential design — leading by a series of circum- 
stances to^ results wliich have been hitherto shrouded 
from our finite intelligence? To be lucky, as it is 
called, one requires to make some reasonably strenuous 
exertion — probably to make some unpleasant sacri- 
fices. Erskine might not, perliaps, have risen to be 
Lord Chancellor but for the fortunate sprain which 
caused him to relinquish an intended visit, and return 
home; a circumstance which brought him under the 
notice of a maritime gentleman, whose case he took up, 
mastered, and carried through triumphantly. But wc 
must bear in mind that he had, by previous and toilsome 
exertion, and no little self-sacrifice, prepared himself 
to^benefit by the fortunate accident ~which brought 



222 ' MEMOIR. 

I him into notice. It is a pity that one has to make so 

many sacrifices of inclinations — to thole a good deal — 

possibly to relinquish some amusements — in order to 

^A^t \ attain anything like permanent comfort; but so it is, and 

ever will be. When my brother and I got emancipated 

from the Dark Ages, it was our fate to proceed on a 

course wholly different from that which several persons 

we had known were pleased to pursue. Their policy 

. being to live all for the present, and not for the future, 

C y vve went naturally in opposite directions. Apparently 

; wishing to end as they began, they spent daily or weekly 

all they earned, and were ever at the same point of 

progress. They doubtless, however, enjoyed themselves 

to their own satisfaction, and there we must leave them. 

^ *vC Relaxing no effort, five to six years had effected a 

beneficial change of circumstances. We were both, in 

a sense, raised to a higher platform, and had, indeed, -S" 

» -t reached that social status, if not something above it, 

which had been lost by the family calamity of 1812. 

It seemed as if the gales of fortune were at length about 

to blow steadily in our favour, without disturbance O 

#j^-»^ from any cross-current. We were not, however, to be « 

let off so easily. Fate had one more trial in reserve. , ^ — 

/i' My father, who had come to live in Edinburgh, began "^"^ 

to take a lively interest in his sons, whose success was ~*^ 
so clearly imputable to the adroit way in which he had ^ 
thrown them on their own resources, and obliged them^^-?^ 
to think and act for themselves, that he had, as he thought, ~^ 
established a fair claim on their good offices. With this 
agreeable notion, and wholly reckless of consequences, [j, 
he plunged into a litigation, which I can refer to with ^ 
any degree of patience, only from the insight that ^ 
y was afforded of new and diverting phases of character. 1 

^ K^ <}xA^t^ _ U l^kiJL u^jLc 'K^^ uw^ ;i^ 





Among his dreams of the past, he raked up the fancy 
of trying to recover a piece of property, which had long 
ago belonged to the family, but had somehow been 
suffered to drift, improperly, as was alleged, into other 
hands. The property in question was a wretched 
old house, perhaps not worth ;^2oo, and the pro- 
posal of fighting for it in the Court of Session was 
repugnant alike to my brother's feelings and my own. 
Unfortunately, any remonstrances on our part, and 
also strong objections urged by my mother, were 
unavailing. The suit was commenced, and its his- 
tory might almost furnish materials for a tragi-comic 

The prime adviser in the case was a person who, from 
his reputed knowledge of law, was held in high esteem 
by certain classes of people. He was a neat little man, 
in drab breeches and white woollen stockings, who 
laboured under the infirmity of a stiff" crooked knee, on 
which account he walked very oddly, by successive 
jerks, with the help of a stick. Having been bred in 
the office of a country solicitor, this erudite person had 
formed an acquaintance with legal forms and techni- 
calities, and adding to this a theoretic knowledge of 
Scotch law from Erskine's Institutes, he was qualified, as 
many thought, for acting as counsel to those who stood 
in need of legal advice. With his acquirements, it was 
perhaps only as an act of considerable condescension 
that he made his living as a dealer in certain liquid exhil- 
arants, in an inferior part of the city. Under the inspiring 
counsels of this genius, the case ran its tourse tlirough 
the court, producing the most agonising anticipations 
of what was to be the result. As we had all foreseen, 
my father lost his suit Then came the matter of costs. 

224 MEMOIR. 

and my brother and I were (as was thought reasonable) 
looked to for payment. It was a thing we had nothing 
to do with, but that made no difference. As many too 
well know, there is in family relationship a power of 
moral torture which reaches far beyond the bounds of 
legal, or any other, obligation. Money that I could 
ill spare was swept away, and Robert lost a large part 
of what he had realised by selling the copyright and 
stock of the Traditions to Mr Tait — a dismal outcome 
of hopes, anxieties, and exertions, but not beyond what 
has often to be endured. These losses kept us back one 
or two years. 

Now came a domestic tragedy, on which it would 
be painful to linger. My unfortunate father went from 
bad to worse after the loss of his lawsuit. The flute 
which cheered him in the spring-tide of life was laid 
aside, as too simple a means of exhilaration. Under 
his accumulation of disasters and cankering reminis- 
cences, ascribable in a great degree to his inconsid- 
erateness and want of moral courage, he died — a 
wreck — in November 1824, in the week of those 'con- 
flagrations of which Robert has given some account. 

Shortly after the issue of the Traditions, it became 
expedient for me to relinquish printing, and to adhere 
more exclusively to other branches of business, including 
some undertakings of a literary nature. The parting 
with my poor little press, which had latterly been super- 
seded by newer mechanism, was not unaccompanied 
with that kind of regret with which one bids farewell to 
an old and cherished companion. It is pleasing, how- 
ever, to know that it did not suffer destruction, but was 
purchased by a person in Glasgow, who aspired to begin 
as a printer in a way similar to myself; and for any- 


thing I know to the contrary, this little machine may 
still be creaking and wheezing on the banks of the 
Clyde, for, like many wlio are afflicted with asthma, it 
possessed a wonderful degree of vitality. 

Partly with the design of furnishing a companion to 
the Picture of Scotland, I commenced a work, purporting 
to describe the institutions, secular and religious, peculiar 
to our northern kingdom, and which I styled the Book 
of Scot/and. The work required considerable research 
as well as personal knowledge, and the task was one 
for which I avow myself to have been ill qualified. 1 
sold it to a publisher for thirty pounds. It is now very 
properly forgotten. IndependenUy of its imperfections, 
the subjects treated of would now stand in need of a 
new elucidation, in consequence of innumerable recent 
legislative alterations. Poor as was this production, it 
procured me the honour of being employed along with 
Robert to prepare the Gazetteer of Scotland lor a pub- 
lisher; the price to be paid for it being a hundred 
pounds. It was to be a compilation from all available 
and trustworthy sources, along with such original matter 
as could reasonably be infused into it. To impart a 
sufficient degree of freshness, I made several pedestrian 
journeys to different parts of the country, gathering 
here and there particulars which I thought would be of 

In these excursions I had necessarily to husband time 
and exercise a pretty rigorous economy. Lodging at 
the humbler class of inns, my expenses did not exceed 
a few shillings a day. My object was to see as many 
l)laces as possible, and fix their situation and appearance 
in my mind. I took notes only of dates, inscriptions, 
and other matters demanding great precision. I now 

226 MEMOIR. 

found the value of cultivating the memory, and of having 
learned to rely on recollections of places which I had 
seen. From practice, I acquired the art of summoning 
up the remembrance of scenes and places which I had 
visited, and persons I had seen, even to very minute 
particulars. Gathering and storing up observations in 
this way, I traversed Fife and the lower parts of Perth 
and Forfar shires. My longest stretch in one day 
was from the neighbourhood of Cupar to Edinburgh, 
by Lochleven, Kinross, Dunfermline, Inverkeithing, and 
Queensferry, a stretch of forty miles, varied by the 
passage of the ferry. It was a delightful ramble in a 
long day in June, which left the most pleasing recol- 
lections, notwithstanding that I was a little foot-sore 
on reaching home. By such means as this I was able 
to impart some originality to the ordinary descriptions 
in the Gazetteer. 

Although my brother was ostensibly associated with 
me in this production, his duties were chiefly those 
of final supervisor of the press. As the work was a 
thick octavo volume, double columns, in small type, 
the mere penmanship of it extended to ten thousand 
pages, many of which I wrote twice or thrice over, to 
insure accuracy. My share of the price of copyright 
was seventy pounds. This book was a great literary 
exercise, and as such, remuneration was of inferior con- 
sequence. I wrote the whole of it, as I had previous 
productions, behind the counter, amidst the involve- 
ments and interruptions of ordinary business ; by which 
means I acquired a kind of facility of dropping and 
resuming a subject at a moment's notice, which proved 
of considerable value. To finish the work at the 
appointed time, I was frequently compelled to remain 


at the desk for two to three hours after closing uj) lor 
the night. The labour incurred by so much thinking 
and writing, together with close application otherwise, 
unameliorated with any sort of recreation, brought on 
an illness which for some time assumed a threatening 
appearance. But this was happily got over without any 
permanently bad effects. 

The publication of the Gazetteer helped perhaps to 
bring me a little more into notice ; but if local notoriety 
was desirable, that was incidentally effected by writing 
a series of letters in an Edinburgh newspaper, concern- 
ing that species of civic administration which terminated 
shortly afterwards in a financial collapse. These letters 
bore my name, for it has been with me a rule in life 
never to write an anonymous letter. If ever there was 
an instance of the value of this species of candour, it 
was on the present occasion. The letters engaged 
public attention, and when issued in a collected fomi in 
a small pamphlet, the sale was immense. On looking 
back to this exploit, I feel that the strictures were much 
too severe, and visited on individuals that which pro- 
perly belonged to a system. 

Though these and some other literary exercises were 
of no pecuniary advantage adequate to the time and 
trouble spent upon them, they were immensely service- 
able as a training, preparatory to the part which it was 
my destiny to take in the cheap literature movement of 
modern times. It is regarding that movement, and the 
change which it wrought in my brother's as well as in 
my own course of life, that something is now to be said. 



A LTHOUGH, towards the close of the eighteenth 
and in the early part of the present century, 
books, chiefly reprints, were in time cheapened, and 
greatly popularised by a series of enterprising pub- 
lishers, and although books of all kinds were rendered 
generally accessible by circulating libraries, the more 
aspiring of the humbler orders, particularly those at a 
distance from towns, still experienced great difficulty 
in procuring works to improve their knowledge or 
entertain their leisure hours. Perusing the memoirs of 
Robert Burns, James Ferguson, Thomas Telford, George 
Stephenson, and others who, by dint of genius and 
painstaking study, raised themselves from obscurity to 
distinction, we perceive what were their difficulties in 
getting hold of books; such as they did procure being 
mostly borrowed from kindly disposed neighbours. 

Usually, in these untoward circumstances, the mind 
of the rustic youth of Scotland took the direction of 
rh)aning in the style of Ramsay and Robert Fergusson. 
This was specially observable in the case of Telford, 
who, while still a journeyman mason in his native Esk- 
dale, contributed verses to Ruddiman's Weekly Maga- 
zine, under the signature of ' Eskdale Tani.' In one 
of these compositions, which was addressed to Burns, 


he sketched his own character, and the efforts he made 
to improve his stock of knowledge by jjoring over 
a borrowed volume, with no better light than what was 
afforded by the cottage fire : 

' Nor pass the tcntie curious lad, 
Who o'er the ingle hangs his head, 
And begs of neighbours books to read ; 

For hence arise 
Thy country's sons, who far are spread, 

Baith bold and wise.' 

So matters remained ; the protracted French war and 
its immediate consequences postponing any substantial 
improvement, at least as regarded the less affluent classes. 
From 1815 till 1S20, while the marvellous fictions of 
Scott and the poems of Byron were issuing with rapidity 
from the press, low-priced and scurrilous prints, minister- 
ing to the fancies of the seditious and depraved, were 
also produced in vast numbers. The whole were 
suppressed by a statute, imposing a stamp, in 1820. 

No cheap unstamped paper could be safely attempted 
immediately after this, unless it were purely literary^ 
and abstained from any comment on public affairs. Of 
this class was the obscure periodical attempted by my 
brother and myself in 182 1. In 1822, a cheap weekly 
sheet, styled the Mirror, was begun in London by John 
Limbird, but with litde pretension to original writing. 
It was illustrated with wood-engravings, was generally 
amusing, and so far might be defined as a step in the 
right direction. 

From about this time, benevolently disposed anil 
thoughtful men set about devising methods for improv- 
ing the intelligence and |)rofessit>nal skill of artisans. 
The School of Arts, the earliest of its class, was founded 

230 MEMOIR. 

in Edinburgh in 182 1. Two years later, Dr Birkbeck 
founded a Mechanics' Institution in London, and another 
in Glasgow. Coeval with this movement, tlie Society 
for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge was founded in 
1825. Viewed as a distinct and imposing effort to 
stimulate the popular understanding, this association, 
with all the mistakes which marked its short career, is 
never to be spoken of without respect. The object of 
the Society was to issue a series of cheap treatises on 
the exact sciences, and on various branches of know- 
ledge. In 1827, Archibald Constable, a man of bold 
conceptions, commenced the issue of his Miscellany of 
volumes of a popular kind ; and others catching the con- 
tagion, for a time there was a perfect deluge of works, 
at a moderate price, designed for the instruction and 
amusement of the multitude. 

It is interesting to look back on those times, and note 
the progressive steps towards a thoroughly cheap yet 
original and wholesome literature. There was merit in 
the very shortcomings and failures, for, with their tempo- 
rary or partial success, they shewed that the public were 
not indisposed to support that in which they could have 
reason to place confidence. Some mistakes had been 
committed. The prints suppressed in 1820 had dealt 
principally in invective, of which no good can come. 

The reign of William IV. was the true era of the 
revival of cheap periodical literature. So far as the 
humbler orders were concerned, it almost appeared as 
if the art of printing, through certain mechanical appli- 
ances — particularly the paper-making machine and the 
printing-machine— was only now effectually discovered. 

To meet the popular demand, a number of low-priced 
serials, of a worthless, or at least ephemeral kind, were 


issued in London in 1831. At the same time, there 
were several set on foot in Edinburgh. The forerunner 
and best of these was styled the Cornucopia, which 
consisted of four pages, folio, and was sold for three- 
halfpence. The editor and proprietor of this popular 
sheet was George Mudie, a clever but erratic being, who, 
I believe, had been a compositor. As the Cornucopia 
contained a quantity of amusing matter, and in point of 
size resembled a newspaper, it was deemed a marvel of 
cheapness ; for at this time the ordinary price of a 
newspaper was sevenpence. Eminently successful as a 
commercial undertaking, Mr Mudie's sheet, if properly 
conducted, could not have failed to be permanently 

As a bookseller, I had occasion to deal in these cheap 
papers. One thing was greatly against them. Tliey 
were frequently behind time on the day of publication ; 
and any irregularity in the appearance of periodicals is 
generally fatal. It was also obvious that they were con- 
ducted on no definite plan. They consisted for the most 
part of disjointed and unauthorised extracts from books, 
clippings from floating literature, old stories, and stale 
jocularities, ^^■ith no purpose but to furnish temporary 
amusement, they were, as it appeared to me, the per- 
version of what, if rightly conducted, might become a 
powerful engine of social improvement. Pondering on 
this idea, I resolved to take advantage of the evidently 
growing taste for cheap literature, and lead it, as far as 
was in my power, in a proper direction. 

It is, I think, due to myself and others to offer this 
explanation. I have never aspired to the reputation of 
being the originator of low-priced serials ; but only, as 
far as I can judge, the first to make a deteniiined atlenipl 

232 MEMOIR. 

to impart such a character to these productions in our 
own day, as might tend to instruct and elevate inde- 
pendently of mere passing amusement. Professionally, 
I considered that the attempt was a noble and fair 
venture — one for which I might not be disqualified by 
previous literary experiences, humble as these had been. 
The enterprise promised to be at least in concord with 
my feelings. 

Before taking any active step, I mentioned the matter 
to Robert. Let us, I said, endeavour to give a reput- 
able literary character to what is at present mostly mean 
or trivial, and of no permanent value ; but he, thinking 
only of the not very creditable low-priced papers then 
current, did not entertain a favourable opinion of my 
projected undertaking, was shocked even at the very pro- 
posal. With all affection, however, he promised to give 
me what literary assistance was in his power, and in this 
I was not disappointed. Consulting no one else, and 
in that highly wrought state of mind which overlooks all 
but the probability of success, I at length, in January 
1832, issued the prospectus of Chambers's Edinburgh 
Journal^ a weekly sheet at three-halfpence. Announcing 
myself as editor, I stated that ' no communications in 
verse or prose were wanted.' In this, there was an air 
of self-confidence, not perhaps to be justified, but, as 
shewing that my periodical was not to be composed of 
the contributions of anonymous and irresponsible corres- 
pondents, the effect was on the whole beneficial. 

The first number appeared on Saturday, the 4th of 
February 1S32. It contained an opening address 
written in a fervid state of feeling, as may be judged by 
the following passages. 

' The principle by which I have been actuated, is to 


take advantage of the universal appetite for instruction 
which at present exists ; to supply to that appetite food 
of the best kind, in such form and at such price as 
must suit the convenience of every man in the British 
dominions. Every Saturday, when the poorest labourer 
in the country draws his humble earnings, he shall have 
it in his power to purchase with an insignificant portion 
of even that humble sum, a meal of healthful, useful, 
and agreeable mental instruction. Whether I succeed 
in my wishes, a brief space of time will determine. I 
throw myself on the good sense of my countrymen 
for support; all I seek is a fair field wherein to exer- 
cise my industry in their service. It may perhaps be 
considered an invidious remark, when I state as my 
humble conviction, that the people of Great Britain and 
Ireland have never yet been properly cared for, in the 
way of presenting knowledge under its most cheering 
and captivating aspect, to their immediate observation. 
The scheme of diffusing knowledge has certainly been 
more than once attempted by associations established 
under peculiar advantages. Yet, the great end has not 
been gained. The dearth of the publications, official 
inflexibility, and above all, the plan of attaching the 
interests of political or ecclesiastical parties to the 
course of instruction or reading, have separately or 
conjunctly circumscribed the limits of the operation ; so 
that the world, on the whole, is but little the wiser with 
all the attempts which have been made. The strong- 
holds of ignorance, though not unassailcd, remain to be 
carried. Carefully eschewing the errors into which 
these praiseworthy associations have fallen, I take a 
course altogether novel. Whatever may be my political 
principles, neither these nor any other which would be 

234 MEMOIR. 

destructive of my present views, shall ever mingle in 
my observations on the arrangements of civil society.' 
I concluded by notifying the species of subjects which 
would receive particular attention. 

High as were my expectations, the success of the 
work exceeded them. In a few days there was, 
for Scotland, the unprecedented sale of thirty thousand 
copies ; and shortly afterwards, when copies were con- 
signed to an agent in London for dispersal through 
England, the sale rose to upwards of fifty thousand, at 
which it long remained. Some years afterwards, the cir- 
culation exceeded eighty thousand. To the best of my 
recollection, all the other cheap papers issued in Edin- 
burgh immediately disappeared. In London, some also 
were dropped, but others sprung up in their stead. For 
a time, indeed, there was not a week which had not a new 
serial ; but few of these candidates for public approval 
outlived the second or third number. So many began 
and never went farther, that a gentleman whom we hap- 
pened to hear of possessed a large pile of first numbers 
of periodicals of which a second never appeared. 

On the 31st of March 1832, being eight weeks 
after the commencement of Chambers's Journal, ap- 
peared the first number of the Fetmy Magazine of 
the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. We 
learn from Mr Charles Knight, its publisher, that the 
Fetmy Magazine was suggested to him on a morning 
in March, and that the Lord Chancellor (Brougham), 
who was waited on, cordially entered into the project, 
which was forthwith sanctioned by the Committee of 
the Society. The Fenny Magazine, begun under such 
distinguished auspices, and which, as is understood, had 
a very large circulation, terminated unexpectedly in 


1845 ; though not without having exerted, during its 
comparatively brief career, an influence, along with 
similar publications, in stimulating the growth of that 
cheap and wholesome literature which has latterly 
assumed such huge proportions. 

Why the Penny Magazine, with its alleged success 
as regards circulation, its large array of artists and 
writers, and its body of distinguished patrons, should 
have perished so prematurely, while there were still 
considerable strongholds of ignorance to be attacked, 
no one has ever ventured to explain. A silence equally 
mysterious hangs over the close of the Useful Know- 
ledge Society, the proceedings of which were so vigor- 
ously heralded and sustained by articles in the Edin- 
burgh Review, that no one could say the association failed 
for want of recommendation from the highest literary 
quarters. In the absence of any explanations on the 
subject, it may be conjectured that with all the ability 
displayed, and the best intentions of every one con- 
cerned, the treatises of the Society were on the whole too 
technical and abstruse for the mass of operatives ; they 
made no provision for the culture of the imaginative 
faculties ; and, in point of fact, were purchased and 
read chiefly by persons considerably raised above the 
obligation of toiling witli their hands for their daily 
bread. In a word, they may be supposed to have been 
distasteful to the poi)ular fancy. If any other reason 
be wanted, it probably lay in the fact that a society 
cannot, as a rule, compete with private enterprise. 

It is not my duty to sit as critic on aims and efforts 
not unlike my own. There are different ways of doing 
things, and it may happen that one is as good as 
another. All that need be said is, that it has been 

236 MEMOIR. 

a matter of congratulation, that Chambers's Journal 
owed nothing, in its inception or at any part of its 
career, to the special patronage or approval of any sect, 
party, or individual. And the same thing may be confi- 
dently afiirmed of the numerous publications of one 
kind or other which we were afterwards enabled to 
prepare and issue in furthering the cause we had espoused. 
It is something to say with excusable pride, that in the 
whole proceedings of my brother and myself, we never 
courted the countenance or recommendation of any 
person or persons, or of any body of people, civil or 
religious ; and after an experience of forty years, cir- 
cumstances would point to the conclusion that this has 
not been the worst, besides being the least obsequious, 
line of policy. 



A S in the case of a dissolving view, when, as if by 
■^ ^ magic, a bleak wintry scene is transformed into a 
landscape glowing with the warmth and verdant garni- 
ture of summer, so, by the appearance of "Oat Journal, 
and the wide popularity it secured, was there effected an 
agreeable and wholly unforeseen change on my own 
condition, and that of others connected with me. The 
revolution was abrupt, and of a kind not to be treated 
with indifference. The moderate and not very con- 
spicuous business in which I had been engaged was 
immediately relinquished, in consequence of the absorb- 
ing and prospectively advantageous literary enterprise 
in which I had embarked ; and removing to a central 
part of the town, new and enlarged premises were 
acquired. Until the fourteenth number of the work, 
Robert was only in the position of contributor. Then 
abandoning his separate professional relations, he 
became joint-editor, and also without pecuniary obli- 
gation was associated with me in the firm of VV. & R. 

Had Chambers' s Jourml been commenced in London, 
no mechanical difficulty would have been experienced. 
The case was very different in Edinburgh, where, at the 

2:,8 MEMOIR. 

time, there were obstructions as regards both paper and 
printing. John Johnstone, a genial old man, husband 
of the authoress of Clati Albyn, and other novels, was a 
printer, and by him the work was for a time executed, 
as well as it could be in the circumstances. Other 
printers were afterwards employed, but their hand- 
presses, even with relays of men toiling night and day, 
proved altogether inadequate for the large impressions 
that were required. At length, a set of stereotype plates 
of each number was sent weekly to London, from which 
copies were printed for circulation in England ; while 
from another set impressions were executed in Edinburgh 
by machines which we procured for the purpose. Steam 
settled the difficulty. The work was at first a sheet 
folio, subsequently the size was reduced to a quarto, and 
at last to an octavo form. 

Entering on the comprehensive design of editing, 
printing, and publishing works of a popularly instructive 
and entertaining tendency, Robert and I were for a 
considerable length of time alone — our immediately 
younger brother, James, having, to our distress, died in 
February 1833 — and such was the degree of mutual 
confidence between us, that not for the space of twenty- 
one years was it thought expedient to execute any 
memorandum of agreement. 

Though unusual, the combination of literary labour 
with the business of printing and publishing is not 
without precedent. We may call to mind the examples 
set by Edward Cave, Samuel Richardson, and Robert 
Dodsley last century. We might, indeed, point to Sir 
Walter Scott in our o^vn times ; the only thing to be 
deplored in the case of that great man being, that he 
kept his connection with the printing establishment 


of the Ballantynes a profound secret, through an 
apprehension of losing caste among his law friends, 
instead of avowedly, like Richardson, becoming the 
printer, as well as holder of the copyrights, of his own 

A happy difference, yet some resemblance, in char- 
acter, proved of service in the literary and commercial 
union of Robert and myself Mentally, each had a 
little of the other, but with a wide divergence in matters 
requisite as a whole. One could not have well done 
without the other. With mutual help there was mutual 
strength. All previous hardships and experiences seemed 
to be but a training in strict adaptation for the course 
of life opened up to us in 1832. Nothing could have 
happened better — a circumstance which may perhaps go 
a little way towards inspiring hopes and consolations 
among those who may be destined to pass through a 
sim.ilar ordeal. 

The permanent hold on the public mind which the 
Jotiriial fortunately obtained, was undoubtedly owing, in 
a very great degree, to the leading articles, consisting of 
essays, moral, familiar, and humorous, from the pen of 
my brother. My own more special duties were con- 
fined for the most part to papers having in view some 
kind of popular instruction, particularly as regards 
the young, whom it was attempted to stimulate in the 
way of mental improvement. There likewise fell to my 
share the general administration of a concern which 
was ever increasing in dimensions. In conducting the 
/ourtial, the object never lost sight of was not merely 
to enlighten, by presenting information on matters 
of interest, and to harmlessly amuse, but to touch 
the heart — to purify the affections; thus, if possible, 

240 MEMOIR. 

imparting to the work a character which would render it 
universally acceptable to families. 

At no time was there any attempt to give pictorial 
illustrations of objects in natural history, the fine arts, 
or anything else. Without undervaluing the attractions 
of wood-cut engravings, the aims of the editors were in 
a different direction. Their desire, it will be perceived, 
was to cultivate the feelings as much as the under- 
standing. Hence the endeavour to revive, in a style 
befitting the age, the essay system of last century. In 
this effort, it may be allowable to say that Robert was 
eminently successful. His own explanations on the 
subject, embraced in the preface to a collection of his 
essays (published in 1847), are worthy of being quoted: 

' It was in middle life that I was induced to become an 
essayist, for the benefit of a well-known periodical work 
established by my elder brother. During fifteen years I 
have laboured in this field, alternately gay, grave, senti- 
mental, philosophical, until not much fewer than four 
hundred separate papers have proceeded from my pen. 
These papers were written under some difiiculties, parti- 
cularly those of a provincial situation, and a life too studious 
and recluse to afi"ord much opportunity for the observation 
of social characteristics. Yet perhaps these restraints have 
had some good effect on the other hand, in making the 
treatment of subjects less local and less liable to the acci- 
dents of fashion than it might otherwise have been. One 
ruling aim of the author must be taken into account : it was 
my design from the first to be the essayist of the middle 
class — that in which I was born, and to which I continued 
to belong. I therefore do not treat their manners and 
habits as one looking de hmit en bas, which is the usual 
style of essayists, but as one looking round among the 
firesides of my friends. For their use I shape and sharpen 


my apothegms ; to their comprehension I modify any 
philosophical disquisitions on which I have entered. Every- 
where I have sought less to attain elegance or observe 
refinement, than to avoid that last of literary sins — dullness. 
I have endeavoured to be brief — direct ; and I know I have 
been earnest. As to the sentiment and philosophy, I am 
not aware that any particular remark is called for. The 
only principles on which I have been guided are, as far as 
I am aware, these : whatever seems to me just, or true, or 
useful, or rational, or beautiful, I love and honour — 
wherever human woe can be lessened, or happiness in- 
creased, I would work to that end — wherever intelligence 
and virtue can be promoted, I would promote them. These 
dispositions will, I trust, be traced in my writings.' 

The year that saw the beginning of Chambers^ s Jour- 
nal, brought gloom over the literary world. After an 
unavailing search for health in the south of Europe, Sir 
Walter Scott returned to Abbotsford in the course of 
the summer — to die. The scene was gently closed on 
the 2ist September 1832. The funeral of this illustrious 
Scotsman was appointed to take place on Wednesday 
the 26th. Among the very few mourners from Edin- 
burgh who attended were my brother and myself. In 
a vehicle procured for the purpose, we followed in the 
long funereal procession from Abbotsford, through the 
villages of Damick and Melrose, and along the pictur- 
esque road which, amidst hedgerows, conducts to the 
umbrageous precincts of Dryburgh. All business was sus- 
pended in the neighbourhood. At every side-avenue and 
opening, stood a group of villagers, all apparently 
impressed with a proper sense of the occasion. We felt 
as if taking part in a historical pageant, amidst scenery for 
ever embalmed in ballad and legend. At every successive 
turn of the way appeared some object which Scott had 

242 MEMOIR. 

either loved because it was the subject of former song, 
or rendered memorable by his own immortal verse. On 
reaching the vicinity of Smailholm Tower, the scene of 
his childhood was brought, after all the transactions of 
a mighty and glorious life, into the same prospect as 
his grave. The spectacle presented at the final solem- 
nity — the large concourse of mourners clustered under 
the trees and near the ruins of the abbey, the sonorous 
reading of the funeral-service amidst the silent crowd, 
and the gloomy atmosphere overhead — is one never 
to be forgotten. Few among those present felt more 
acutely than my brother; and when the coffin was 
lowered into the tomb, his heart swelled with uncon- 
trollable emotion. 

Indebted to Sir Walter for so many kindnesses some 
years previously, and in correspondence with him till 
the close of 183 1, my brother felt that he had lost his 
most honoured friend. Almost immediately, he pro- 
ceeded to write a memoir of the deceased, from such 
materials as were within reach, as well as from personal 
recollections. The memoir was issued by us in a 
popular form, and had an extraordinary sale — as many 
as a hundred and eighty thousand copies.* It is referred 
to in the following correspondence which my brother 
opened with Allan Cunningham. 

' 19 Waterloo Place, Edinburgh, 
October ii, 1832. 

* Sir — Conceiving that a proper opportunity has at length 
arrived, I venture thus to break the charm — for such it 
almost seems — which has so long kept you and me un- 

* This memoir has been revised and reissued — Life of Sir Walter 
Scott, by Robert Chambers, LL.D., with 'Abbotsford Notanda,' 
by Robert Carruthers, LL.D. (1871). 


acquainted with each other. Permit me, upon the strength 
of our common regard for Scotland and her native literature, 
to introduce myself to you, as the writer of a life of Sir 
Walter Scott, just published in London and Edinburgh, 
in connection with the journal conducted by my elder brother 
and myself, and which, I am afraid, must interfere a little 
with the success of your similar attempt in the AtJiaiccum. 
However these publications may jostle each other, there is 
no necessity for the authors being spited at each .other on 
that account. I yield to your work the palm of eloquent 
writing and poetical feeling, but my superior opportunities 
have consoled me a little for that on the score of more 
information, and also, perhaps, correctness as to facts. I 
shall direct a copy of a second edition, in which there are 
a few corrections, to be enclosed for you, so that you may 
have the means of correcting your own work by it, in the 
event of its appearing in any other shape. I also shall either 
now send, or send soon, a volume of which I shall beg your 
acceptance, as a mark of my esteem and admiration. It is 
a selection of the Scottish ballads, in which many new ones 
are made out by piecing fragments together, and here and 
there adding a line or a verse. I look upon this work as 
my best out of some five-and-twenty volumes ; but such 
is the apathy of the public to this beautiful kind of poetry, 
that no work of mine has been so little heard of. It cost me 
exactly a month's work, though of course I could not have 
done it in so short a time, if I had not been a profound 
student of the native legendary poetry from my youth up. 
Permit me to take this opportunity of expressing my 
admiration of your numerous efforts in this branch of 
composition. I think there is no kind of poetry that 
could make such an impression on youthful minds as your 
early ballads, which are published by Cromek. I have 
often regretted that you conlincd yourself to such a limited 
set of ideas and localities. You know you have quite tired 
me of Criffel and Solway, but you know best how your 
bonnet fits you. Still, 1 cannot but wonder that you have 

244 MEMOIR. 

not attempted to make something of modem society, and 
of the scene in which you have spent so many of the latter 
years of your life. — Believe me, sir, though personally un- 
known to you, your sincere friend and fellow-countryman, 

Robert Chambers. 
'Allan Cunningham, Esq. 

To this letter came the following genial reply : 

' 27 Lower Belgrave Place, 
I'jth October 1832. 

' My dear Sir — Your letter was a welcome one. It is 
written with that frank openness of heart which I like, and 
contains a wish, which was no stranger to my own bosom, 
that we should be known to each other. You must not 
suppose that I have been influenced in my wish by the 
approbation with which I know your works have been 
received by your country. It is long since I took to judging 
in all matters for myself, and the Pictu7-e of Scotland and 
the Traditions of Edinburgh, both of which I bought, 
induced me to wish Robert Chambers among my friends. 
There was, perhaps, a touch or so of vanity in this — your 
poetic, ballad-scrap, aitld-world, neiv-world, Scottish tastes 
and feelings seemed to go side for side with my own. Be 
so good, therefore, as send me your promised Book of 
Ballads, and accept in return, or rather in token of future 
regard, active and not passive, my Rustic Maid of Elvar, 
who has made her way through reform pamphlets and other 
rubbish, like a lily rising through the clods of the spring. 
There 's a complimentary simile in favour of myself and my 
book ! You must not, however, think ill of it because I 
praise it ; but try and read it, and tell me Avhat you feel 
about it. 

' I have been much pleased with your account of Sir 
Walter Scott : it wears such an air of truth, that no one can 
refuse credence to it, and is full of interesting facts and just 
observations. I have no intention of expanding, or even of 


correcting, my own hasty and inaccurate sketch. Mr Lock- 
hart will soon give a full and correct life of that wonderful 
man to the world. The weed which I have thrown on his 
grave — for I cannot call it a flower — may wither as better 
things must do. Some nine thousand copies were sold ; 
this we consider high, though nothing comparable, I know, 
to the immense sale of Chajnbers's yotirnal. I am truly 
glad of your great circulation ; your work is by a thousand 
degrees the best of all the latter progeny of the press. It is 
an original work, and while it continues so must keep the 
lead of the paste and scissors productions. My wife, who 
has just returned from Scotland, says that your Journal 
is very popular among her native hills of Galloway. The 
shepherds, who are scattered there at the rate of one to 
every four miles square, read it constantly, and they circu- 
late it in this way : the first shepherd who gets it reads it, 
and at an understood hour places it under a stone on a 
certain hill-top ; then shepherd the second in his own time 
finds it, reads it, and carries it to another hill, where it is 
found like Ossian's chief under its own gray stone by shep- 
herd the third, and so it passes on its way, scattering 
information over the land. 

' My songs, my dear sir, have all the faults you find with 
them, and some more. The truth is, I am unacquainted 
with any other nature save that of the Nith and the 
Solway, and I must make it do my turn. I am like a bird 
that gathers materials for its nest round its customary bush, 
and who sings in his own grove, and never thinks of moving 
elsewhere. The affectations of London are as nothing to 
me ; in my Lives of the Painters, I have, however, escaped 
from my valley, and on other contemplated works I hope to 
shew that though I sing in the charmed circle of Nithsdale, 
I can make excursions in prose out of it, and write and 
think like a man of the world and its ways. — I remain, my 
dear sir, with much regard, yours always, 

Allan Cunningham. 

'To Robert Chambkrs, Esq.' 

246 MEMOIR. 

It was gratifying for us, as editors of Chambers's 
Journal, to receive the approbation and good wishes of 
so prodigious a popular favourite as * Honest Allan/ for, 
independently of the wide circulation of the work, his 
good word was an assurance that the principles on which 
it had been started and inflexibly maintained, were 
commendable. It will now seem strange to mention, 
that the success of this unassuming periodical led to a 
species of persecution. On all hands we were beset 
with requests to give it the character of a ' religious pub- 
lication.' It was in vain for us to state that that was 
not our role ; that our work was addressed to persons 
of all shades of thinking, religious and secular, and that 
we could not, without violation of our original profession, 
take a side with any one in particular. We only got 
abused, and were called names. The era of this species 
of persecution, for such it was, however grotesque and 
ridiculous, extended for nearly twenty years after the 
commencement of the work ; and we had often cause to 
be amused with the unreasonableness of the demands 
which were preferred, also to wonder if others in like 
circumstances were similarly assailed. 

On one occasion we were impelled to address our 
readers, partly in explanation of the reasons for main- 
taining the principles on which the Journal was estab- 
lished. Some passages may be quoted as specifying the 
literary charter of the work : 

* With so many good results before us, it would surely 
be unwise were we to alter our plans in order to please 
the fancies of any sect, party, or individual. It is our 
firm conviction that any attempt to do so would be 
attended by failure. The many would be lost for the 
sake of the few who would be gained, and the work 


would soon dwindle into deserved insignificance. So 
much we say in all friendliness to those who seem 
inclined to fasten upon us functions for which we have 
no vocation. No, no; we must dechne usurping the 
mission of the politician and the divine ; we must leave 
the newspaper and the evangelical magazine to follow 
out their respective aims. To us, be it enough that 
we hold by the original charter of our constitution. 
Chambers's Journal shall never be written for this or 
that country, nor to meet this or that fashion of opinion, 
but remain to the end what it has been from the 
beginning — a Literary Miscellany, aspiring to inculcate 
the highest order of morals, universal brotherhood, and 
charity ; to present exalted views of Creative Wisdom 
and Providential Care ; and to impart correct, or, at all 
events, earnest and carefully formed, ideas on subjects of 
economic or general concern ; endeavouring at the same 
time to raise no false expectations, to outrage no indi- 
vidual opinion, and to keep out of sight everything that 
would set mankind by the ears.' 

While resolutely holding to our appointed course, the 
establishment of rival publications less or more differing 
from our own in character — some of them religious, 
or colourably so — was so far from giving us uneasiness, 
that we ever hailed them as coadjutors, all labouring 
for the public good in their respective vocations ; 
for it is only by such varied means that every depart- 
ment of the community can be reached. In April 
1834, Leigh Hunt set on foot the London Jourtial , which 
the editor, in his address, spoke of as being * similar 
in point of size and variety to Chambers's Edinburgh 
Journal, but with a character a little more southern and 
Uterary.' Now that Mr Hunt and my brother have both 

-48 MF.MOTR. 

passed away, it is more than ever pleasing to peruse 
the correspondence that took place between them on 
the subject of this new claimant for popular favour. 
My brother wrote as follows : 

'Edinburgh, April 15, 1834- 
'Dear Sir — I take leave to address you in this familiar 
manner for several reasons. The chief is your kind nature, 
as exemplified in your writings, which prove you the friend 
of all mankind ; the lesser are, your allusions, on more 
occasions than one, to writings of mine, when you did not 
perhaps know the exact name of the author. My purpose is 
to congratulate you on the first number of your Jourtial, 
which I have just seen, and to express my earnest and 
sincere hope that it will repay your exertions, and render 
the latter part of your life more prosperous than you say the 
earlier has been. You will perhaps appreciate my good 
wishes the more that they proceed from an individual who, 
according to vulgar calculations, might expect to be injured 
by your success. I assure you, so far from entertaining any 
grudge towards your work on that score, I am as open to 
receive pleasurable impressions from it as I have ever been 
from your previous publications, or as the least literary of 
your readers can be ; and as hopeful that it will succeed 
and prove a means of comfort to you, as the most ancient 
and familiar of your friends. I know that your work can 
never do, by a tenth part, so much ill to my brother and 
myself as it may do good to you — for every book, however 
similar to others, finds in a great measure new channels for 
itself; and still more certain am I, that the most jealous and 
unworthy feelings we could entertain, would be ineffectual in 
protecting us from the consequences of your supplanting our 
humble sheets in the public favour. My brother and I feel 
much pleasure in observing that a writer so much our senior, 
and so much our superior, should have thought our plan to 
such an extent worthy of his adoption, and hope your doing 
so will only furnish additional proof of the justice of our 


calculations. This leads me to remark, that, while I acknow- 
ledge the truth of your pretensions to having been the reviver 
of the periodical literature of a former age, and have looked 
to your manner of treating light subjects as in part the 
model of our own, I must take this and every other proper 
opportunity of asserting my elder brother's merit, as the 
originator of cheap respectable publications, of the class to 
which your yournal is so important an addition. In the 
starting of Chainberis Edinburgh youriial, in February 
1832, he was unquestionably the first to develop this new 
power of the printing-press ; and considering that we had 
some little character (at least in Scotland) to lose, and 
encountered feelings in our literary brethren little less apt, I 
may say, to deter us from our object than the terrors which 
assailed Rodolph in the Witch's Glen (a simile more 
expressive than it is apt), I humbly conceive that, when the 
full utility of my brother's invention shall have been per- 
ceived by the world, as I trust it will in time, he will be fully 
entitled to have his claims allowed without dispute. 

' That we have regretted to find ourselves the objects of 
so many of the meaner order of feelings among our brethren, 
it would be vain to deny. I must say, however, that we 
would have been ill to satisfy indeed, if the admission of our 
weekly sheet into almost every family of the middle rank, 
and many of the lower throughout the country, had not 
more than compensated us for that affliction. Our labours, 
moreover, are profitable beyond our hopes, beyond our 
wants, besides yielding to us a ceaseless revenue of pleasure, 
in the sense they convey to us of daily and hourly improving 
the hearts and understandings of a large portion of our 
species. That you may aim as heartily at this result, and 
be as successful in obtaining it, is the wish of, dear sir, your 
sincere friend and servant, 

Robert CuAMiiKRS. 

'To Leigh Hunt, Esq.' 

There was a reply, lively and characteristic, a copy of 

250 MEMOIR. 

which appeared in the fourth number of the London 
Journal, being introduced with some compUmentary 
remarks : 

'4 Upper Cheynf, Row, Chelsea, 
April 21, 1834. 

'Mv DEAR Sir — I should have sooner acknowledged the 
receipt of your kind and flattering letter, had I not, in the 
midst of a great press of business, been answering it in 
another manner through the medium of the London Journal^ 
in the columns of which I have taken the liberty of putting 
it. I hope you will excuse this freedom, which I could not 
have taken with you had I respected you less ; and I trust 
I have anticipated any delicacies you might have had on 
the point, by stating to the reader that you had given me 
no intimation as to whether I might so use it or not. But 
setting aside other reasons for this step — injurious, I trust, 
to neither of us — it appeared to me too good a thing for the 
public to lose, as an evidence of the new and generous good- 
will springing up among reflecting people, and specially fit 
to be manifested by those who make it their business to 
encourage reflection. It would have been like secreting a 
sunbeam — a new warmth — a new smile for the world. Nor 
will you think this image hyperbolical, when you consider 
the effect which such evidence must have upon the world, 
however your modesty might incline you to deprecate it 
personally. Mankind, in ignorance of the sweet and bright 
drop of benevolence which they all more or less carry in 
their hearts, ready to bathe and overflow it in good time, 
have been too much in the habit of returning mistrust for 
mistrust, and doubting ever}' one else because each of them- 
selves was doubted. Hence a world of heart-burnings, 
grudgings, jealousies, mischiefs, &c., till some even of the 
kindest people were ashamed to seem kind or to have better 
opinions of things than their neighbours. Think what a 
fine thing it is to help to break up this general ice betwixt 
men's hearts, and you will no longer have any doubt of the 


propriety of the step I have taken, even supposing you to 
have had any before — which I hope not. I forgot to say 
one thing in my pubhc remarks on your letter, which was, 
to express my hearty agreement with you as to the opinion 
that pubhcations of this kind do no injury to one another. 
But this was imphed in my address to the pubhc in the first 
number, and I hope is self-evident. Most unaffectedly do I 
rejoice at hearing your own words confirm, and in so 
pleasant and touching a manner, the report of the great 
success of you and your brother in your speculation. I 
cannot pretend, after all that I have suffered, not to be glad 
to include a prospect of my own success in it, however it 
may fall short of its extent. Any kind of a bit of nest of 
retreat, with powers to send forth my young comfortably 
into the world, and to keep up my note of cheerfulness and 
encouragement to all ears while I have a voice left, is all 
that I desire for myself, or ever did. But in consequence 
of what I have suffered, and conscientiously suffered too, 
I claim a right to be believed when I say that I could rejoice 
in the success of other well-wishers to their species, apart 
from my own, and have often done so ; and in this spirit, as 
well as the other, I congratulate you. That you and your 
brother may live long to see golden harvests of all sorts 
spring up from the seed you have sown, and to reap in 
consequence that "revenue of pleasure" you speak of, as 
well as the more ordinary one, is the cordial wish of, dear 
sir, yours faithfully, 

Leigh Hunt. 
'To Robert Chambers, Esq.' 

No one could more regret than we did that Mr 
Hunt's literary venture was not permanently successful 
At the sixty-second number, he united with his journal 
a periodical called the Priniing Machine, at the same 
time raising the price from three-halfpence to twopence, 
and altering the day of publication. Changes of this 

252 MEMOIR. 

kind are hazardous, if not usually injurious. From 
whatever cause, the publication, as far as can be remem- 
bered, did not reach its hundredth number, although, 
from the quality of its contents, it merited a much 
longer existence. 

How Chambers's Journal should have been so fortu- 
nate as secure a lasting success, while so many con- 
temporary publications came prematurely to an end, is 
a point I can scarcely be expected to elucidate, further 
than by referring to the long series of popular essays by 
my brother, and to the sustained zeal with which the 
work was conducted. Robert and I had come through 
too many tribulations, and seen too vividly the conse- 
quence of lost chances of well-doing among those about 
us, now to trifle with the opportunity of honourable 
advancement which had been fortunately placed in our 
way. Week after week, year after year, there was with 
us, I may safely aver, no relaxation of vigilance — no 
treating of serious duties in the light of an amusement 
to be taken up and laid down at pleasure. And need 1 
make the remark, after all that has been written first and 
last on the subject, that without this persistent earnest- 
ness of purpose, and it may be self-denial, no permanent 
success can be reckoned in any undertaking, whether 
literary or commercial ? 



T OOKING back to 1S33, memory brings up recol- 
^-^ lections of Robert living in the bosom of a young 
family, in a home noted for its genial hospitality, as 
well as for certain evening parties, in which were found 
the most enjoyable society and music : his wife seated 
at the harp or pianoforte, which he accompanied with 
his flute — the old flute which had long ago sounded 
along the Eddleston Water, and had been preserved 
through many vicissitudes; the entertainment being 
sometimes varied by the tasteful performances of worthy 
old George Thomson — Burns's Thomson — on the violin: 
my mother living with the junior members of the family 
in the composure and comfort which she had so meri- 
toriously earned : and I settled in my newly-married life. 
Such was the position of afl'airs. All the surroundings 

The sad thing in these recollections is, that so many 
who composed our general society, and figured among 
the notables of the period, have passed from the stage 
of existence. A lady with whom we formed an intimacy, 
and who greatly enjoyed these evening parties, was Mrs 
Maclghose, the celebrated 'Clarinda' of Robert Burns. 

254 MEMOIR. 

Now a widow in the decline of life, short in stature, and 
of a plain appearance, with the habit of taking snuff, 
which she had inherited from the fashions of the 
eighteenth century, one could hardly realise the fact 
of her being that charming Clarinda who had taken 
captive the heart of ' Sylvander,' and of whom he 
frenziedly wrote, on being obliged to leave her : 

' She, the fair sun of all her sex, 
Has blest my glorious day ; 
And shall a glimmering planet fix 
My worship to its ray ? ' 

Vastly altered since she was the object of this ador- 
ation, Clarinda still possessed a singular sprightliness 
in her conversation, and, what interested us, she was 
never tired speaking of Burns, whose unhappy fate she 
constantly deplored. 

Another of our acquaintances, but seen only at times 
when he came to town, was James Hogg, the Ettrick 
Shepherd. I saw him first at my brother's house in 
1830, and was amused with his blunt simplicity of 
character and good-nature. It did not seem as if he 
had the slightest veneration for any one more than 
another whom he addressed, no matter what was their 
rank or position ; and I could quite believe that he 
sometimes took the liberty, as is alleged of him, of 
familiarly addressing Sir Walter Scott as * Watty,' and 
Lady Scott as ' Charlotte.' The Shepherd, however, 
was a gepuinely good creature and agreeable acquaint- 
ance. On one occasion, he invited my brother and 
myself to what he called ' a small evening party,' at his 
inn in the Candlemaker Row, intimating, in an easy 
way, that we might bring any of our friends with us. 
We went accordingly. Some time afterwards, when 


poor Hogg was no more, Robert gave an account, not 
in the least exaggerated, of this extraordinary entertain- 
ment, which may here be introduced as a specimen of 
the lighter class of articles in the early years of the 


* The late James Hogg was accustomed, in his latter 
days, to leave his pastoral solitude in Selkirkshire once 
or twice every year, in order to pay a visit to Edinburgh. 
He would stay a week or a fortnight in the city, profes- 
sedly lodging at Watson's Selkirk and Peebles Inn in 
the Candlemaker Row, but in reality spending almost 
the whole of his time in dining, supping, and breakfast- 
ing with his friends ; for, from his extreme good-nature, 
and other agreeal)le qualities as a companion, not to 
speak of his distinction as a lion, his society was much 
courted. The friends whom he visited were of all kinds, 
from men high in standing at the bar to poor poets and 
slender clerks ; and amongst all the Shepherd was the 
same plain, good-humoured, unsophisticated man as he 
had been thirty years before, when tending his flocks 
amongst his native hills. In the morning, perhaps, he 
would breakfast with his old friend Sir Walter Scott, at 
his house in Castle Street, taking with him some friend 
upon whom he wished to confer the advantage of an 
acquaintance with that great man. The forenoon would 
be spent in calls, and in lounging amongst the back- 
shops of such booksellers as he knew. He would dine 
with some of the wits of B/ackwooifs Magazine, whom 
he would keep in a roar till ten o'clock ; and then, re- 
collecting another engagement, off he would set to some 

256 MEMOIR. 

fifth story in the Old Town, where a young tradesman 
of literary tastes had collected six or eight lads of his 
own sort to enjoy the humours of the great genius of the 
Nodes Amhrosia7ia. In companies of this kind, he was 
treated with such homage and kindness, that he usually 
got into the highest spirits, sang as many of his own 
songs as his companions chose to listen to, and told 
such droll stories that the poor fellows were like to go 
mad with happiness. After acting as the life and soul 
of the fraternity for a few hours, he would proceed to 
his inn, where it was odds but he would be entangled 
in some further orgies by a few of the inmates of the 

' The only uneasiness which the poet felt in conse- 
quence of his being so much engaged in visiting, was 
that it rendered his residence at Watson's little better 
than a mere affair of lodging, so that, in his reckoning, 
the charge for his bed bore much the same proportion 
to that for everything else which the sack bore to the 
bread in Falstafif's celebrated tavern bill. To remedy 
this in some degree, the honest Shepherd was accus- 
tomed to signalise the last night of his abode in the inn 
by collecting a vast crowd of his Edinburgh friends, of all 
ranks and ages and coats, to form a supper-party for the 
benefit of the house. In the course of the forenoon, he 
would make a round of calls, and mention, in the most 
incidental possible way, that two or three of his acquaint- 
ances were to meet that night in the Candlemaker 
Row at nine, and that the addition of this particular 
friend whom he was addressing, together with any of his 
friends he chose to bring along with him, would by no 
means be objected to. It may readily be imagined that, 
if he gave this hint to some ten or twelve individuals. 


the total number of his visitors would not probably be 
few. In reality, it used to bring something like a High- 
land host upon him. Each of the men he had spoken 
to came, like a chief, with a long train of friends, most 
of them unknown to the hero of the evening, but all of 
them eager to spend a niglit with the Ettrick Shepherd. 
He himself stood up at the corner of one of Watson's 
largest bedrooms to receive the company as it poured 
in. Each man, as he brought in his train, would en- 
deavour to introduce each to him separately, but would 
be cut short by the lion with his bluff good-humoured 
declaration: " Ou ay, we'll be a' weel acquent by 
and by." 

' The first two clans would perhaps find chairs, the 
next would get the bed to sit upon ; all after that, had 
to stand. This room being speedily filled, those who 
came subsequently would be shewn into another bed- 
room. When it was filled too, another would be thrown 
open, and still the cry was : "They come !" At length, 
about ten o'clock, when nearly the whole house seemed 
"panged" with people, as he would have himself 
expressed it, supper would be announced. Then such 
a rushing and thronging through the passages, up-stairs 
and down-stairs, such a tramping, such a crushing, and 
such a laughing and roaring withal — for, in the very 
anticipation of such a supper, there was more fun than 
is experienced at twenty ordinary assemblages of the 
same kind. All the warning Mr Watson had got from 
Mr Hogg about this affair was a hint, in passing out 
that morning, that iwae-t/irce lads had been speaking of 
sui)i)ing there that night. Watson, however, knew of 
old what was meant by twac-thrcc, and had laid out his 
largest room with a double range of tables, sufficient tu 


accommodate some sixty or seventy people. Certain 
preliminaries have in the meantime been settled in the 
principal bedroom. Mr Taylor, commissioner of police 
for the ward which contains the Candlemaker Row, is 
to take the chair — for a commissioner of police in his 
own ward is greater than the most eminent literary or 
professional person present who has no office connected 
with the locality. Mr Thomson, bailie of Easter Ports- 
burgh, and Mr Gray, moderator of the Society of High 
Constables, as the next most important local officials 
present, are to be croupiers. Mr Hogg is to support 
Mr Taylor on the right, and a young member of the 
bar is to support him on the left. 

' In then gushes the company, bearing the bard of 
Kilmeny along like a leaf on the tide. The great men 
of the night take their seats as arranged, while others 
seat themselves as they can. Ten minutes are spent in 
pushing and pressing, and there is after all a cluster of 
Seatless, who look very stupid and nonplussed till all 
is put to rights by the rigging out of a table along the 
side of the room. At length all is arranged \ and then, 
what a strangely miscellaneous company is found to 
have been gathered together ! Meal-dealers are there 
from the Grassmarket, genteel and slender young men 
from the Parliament House, printers from the Cowgate, 
and booksellers from the New Town. Between a couple 
of young advocates sits a decent grocer from Bristo 
Street ; and amidst a host of shop-lads from the Lucken- 
booths, is perched a stiffish young probationer, who 
scarcely knows whether he should be here or not, and 
has much dread that the company will sit late. Jolly, 
honest-like bakers, in pepper-and-salt coats, give great 
uneasiness to squads of black coats in juxtaposition with 


them ; and several dainty-looking youths, in white neck- 
cloths and black silk eye-glass ribbons, are evidently 
much discomposed by a rough tyke of a horse-dealer 
who has got in amongst them, and keeps calling out 
all kinds of coarse jokes to a crony about thirteen men 
off on the same side of the table. Many of Mr Hogg's 
Selkirkshire store-farming friends are there, with their 
well-oxygenated complexions and Dandie-Dinmont-likc 
bulk of figure ; and in addition to all comers, Mr Watson 
himself, and nearly the whole of the people residing in 
his house at the time. If a representative assembly had 
been made up from all classes of the community, it 
could not have been more miscellaneous than this 
company, assembled by a man to whom, in the sim- 
plicity of his heart, all company seemed alike acceptable. 
* When supper was finislied, the chairman proceeded 
to the performance of his arduous duties. After the 
approved fashion in municipal and other public con- 
vivialities, he proposed, with all the honours, the King, 
the Royal Family, the Navy and Army, and all the 
other loyal a7id patriotic toasts, before he judged it fit 
to introduce the toast of the evening. He then rose and 
called for a real — a genuine bumper. *' Gentlemen," 
said he, " we are assembled here this evening in honour 
of one who has distinguished himself in the poetical 
line ; and it is now my pleasing duty to propose his 
health. Gentlemen, I could have wished to escape this 
duty, as I feel myself altogether incapable of doing 
justice to it ; it is my only support in the trying circum- 
stances in which I have been placed, that little can be 
required to recommend the toast to you. (Cheers.) 
Mr Hogg is an old acquaintance of mine, and I have 
reail his works. He has had the merit of raising him- 

26o MEMOIR. 

self from a humble station to a high place amongst the 
literary men of his country. You have all felt his 
powers as a poet in his Queen's Wake. When I look 
around me, gentlemen, at the respectable company here 
assembled — when I see so many met to do honour to 
one who was once but a shepherd on a lonely hill — I 
cannot but feel, gentlemen, that much has been done 
by Mr Hogg, and that it is something fine to be a poet. 
(Great applause.) Gentlemen, the name of Hogg has 
gone over the length and breadth of the land, and 
wherever it is known, it is held as one of those which 
do our country honour. It is associated with the names 
of Burns and Scott, and, like theirs, it will never die. 
Proud I am to see such a man amongst us, and long 
may he survive to reap his fame, and to gratify the 
world with new effusions of his genius ! Gentlemen, 
the health of Mr Hogg, with all the honours." The 
toast was accordingly drunk with great enthusiasm, 
amidst which the Sliepherd rose to make his usual 
acknowledgment : " Gentlemen, I was ever proud to 
be called a poet, but I never was so proud as I am 
this nicht," &c. 

' This part of the business over, the chairman and 
croupiers began to do honour to civic matters. The 
chairman gave the Magistrates of Edinburgh, to which 
Mr Thomson, one of the croupiers, felt himself bound 
to return thanks. Mr Thomson then gave the Com- 
missioners of Police, which brought the chairman upon 
his legs. " Messrs Croupiers and Gentlemen," said he, 
" I rise, as a humble member of the body just named, 
to thank you, in the name of that body, and my own, 
for this unexpected honour. I believe I may say for 
this body, that they do the utmost in their power to 


merit the confidence of their constituents, and that, 
if they ever fail in anything to give satisfaction, it is 
not for want of a desire to succeed. But let arithmetic 
speak for us. You all know that the police aflairs of 
the city were formerly administered at an expense to 
you of no less than one-and-sixpence a pound on the 
valued rental. And you all know what a system it 
was, how negligent, inefficient, and tyrannical. Now, 
gentlemen, our popularly elected commission has 
been seven years in existence, during all which 
time we have watched, and lighted, and cleaned you 
at thirteenpence-halfpenny 1 " (Great and prolonged 

' There is now for two hours no more of Hogg. The 
commissioners, bailies, and moderators have the ball 
at their foot, and not another man can get in a word. 
Every imaginable public body in the city, from the 
University to the Potterrow Friendly Society, is toasted, 
most of them with the honours. Then they come to 
individuals. A croupier proposes the chairman, and 
the chairman proposes the croupiers. One of the latter 
gentlemen has a gentleman in his eye, to whom the 
public has been much indebted, and whose presence 
is always acceptable, and after a long preamble of 
panegyric, out comes the name — the honoured name 
of Mr John Jaap, ex-resident commissioner of police 
for the next ward. It is all in vain for Mr Hogg's 
literary or professional friends to raise their voices 
amidst such a host of bourgeoisie. The spirit of the 
Candlemaker Row and Bristo Street rules the hour, 
and all else must give way, as small minorities ought to 
do. Amidst the storm of civic toasts, a little thickish 
man, in a faded velvet waistcoat and strong-ale nose, 

262 MEMOIR. 

rises with great solemnity, and, addressing the chair, 
begs leave to remind the company of a very remarkable 
omission which has been made. " Gentlemen," said 
he, " I am sure, when I mention my toast, you will 
all feel how much we have been to blame in delaying 
it so long. It is a toast, gentlemen, which calls in a 
peculiar manner for the sympathies of us all. It is 
a toast, gentlemen, which I am sure needs no recom- 
mendation from me, but which only requires to be 
mentioned in order to call up all that feeling which 
such a toast ever ought to call up — a toast, gentlemen, 
a toast such as seldom occurs. Some, perhaps, are 
not aware of an incident of a very interesting nature 
which has taken place in the family of one of our 
worthy croupiers this morning. It has not yet been 
announced in the papers, but it probably will be so 
to-morrow. In the meantime I need only say — ' Mrs 
Gray, of a daughter.' (Cheering from all parts of the 
house.) On such an occasion, gentlemen, you will 
not think me unreasonable if I ask you to get up, and 
drink, with all the honours, a bumper to Mrs Gray and 
her sweet and interesting charge." (Drunk with wild 
joy by all present.) 

' About two o'clock in the morning, after the second 
reckoning has been called and paid by general contri- 
bution, Mr Taylor leaves the chair, which is taken by 
the young advocate. Other citizenly men, including 
the croupiers, soon after glide off, not liking to stay 
out late from their families. As the company diminishes 
in number, it increases in mirth, and at last the ex- 
tremities of the table are abandoned, and the thinned 
host gathers in one cluster of intense fun and good- 
fcllowism around the chair. Hogg now shines out for 


the first time in all his lustre, tells stories, sings, and 
makes all life and glee. The Laird d Lamington, the 
Womeft Folk, and Faddy CRafferty, his three most 
comic ditties, are given with a force and fire that 
carries all before it. About this time, however, the 
reporters withdraw, so that it is not in our power to 
state any further particulars of the Candlemaker-Row 

* The Shepherd now reposes beneath the sod of his 
native Ettrick, all the sorrows and joys of his checkered 
career hushed with his own breath, and not a stone 
to point pale Scotia's way, to pour her sorrows o'er 
her poet's dust.* While thus recalling, for the amuse- 
ment of an idle hour, some of the whimsical scenes 
in which we have met James Hogg, let it not be sup- 
posed that we think of him only with a regard to the 
homely manners, the social good-nature, and the un- 
important foibles, by which he was characterised. The 
world amidst which he moved was but too apt, espe- 
cially of late years, to regard him in these lights alone, 
forgetting that, beneath his rustic plaid, there beat 
one of the kindest and most unperverted of hearts, 
while his bonnet covered the head from which had 
sprung Kilmeny and Donald Macdonald. Hogg, as 
an untutored man, was a prodigy, much more so than 
Burns, who had had comparatively a good education ; 
and now that he is dead and gone, we look around in 
vain for a living hand capable of awaking the national 

* Since ihis was wriUcn, a inonuincnt to James Hogg has been 
creeled in the Vale of Yarrow, at the head of St Mary's Loch, a 
few miles from wliat had latterly been his residence. 

264 MEMOIR. 

lyre. The time will probably come when this inspired 
rustic will be more justly appreciated.' 

Sketches of this kind in a small unpretentious 
periodical which affected no connection with the celeb- 
rities of literature were unusual, and came upon the 
public in the nature of a surprise. On very ordinary 
topics, Robert, happily, brought to bear humour and 
pathos in a way to excite the interest as well as the sym- 
pathy of readers ; even when treating of what was repre- 
hensible, he considerately made allowance for human 
failings, and leant to the side of gentle forbearance. 

The continued and very extraordinary success of 
Chambers' s Journal brought on, as if by natural sequence, 
fresh enterprises, to which, with some assistance, we could 
give proper attention. In 1833, we projected and issued 
the work styled Chambers's Information for the People. 
It consisted of a series of sheets, on subjects in which 
distinct information is of importance among the people 
generally — such as the more interesting branches of 
science, physical, mathematical, and moral ; natural 
history, political history, geography, and literature \ 
together with papers on fireside amusements and miscel- 
laneous topics considered to be of popular interest. 
As latterly improved, the work is comprehended in two 
octavo volumes illustrated with wood-engravings. First 
and last, its sale has amounted to upwards of a hundred 
and seventy thousand sets — very nearly two millions of 
sheets. How far the diffusion of this enormous quan- 
tity of popularised knowledge at a small price may have 
proved beneficial, it is not for us to say. The work 
was reprinted in the United States, but with what 
success we never heard. With some changes of subject, 


a translation appeared in Paris under the title of Instruc- 
tion pour le Feuple. There was also a translation of a 
portion of the work into Welsh by Ebenezer Thomas, or 
Eben the Bard, a person of no mean celebrity in Wales. 

Next, in 1835, was announced and begun a literary 
undertaking very much more onerous and elaborate. 
This was Chambers's Educational Course, consisting of 
a series of treatises and school-books, constructed 
according to the most advanced views of education, 
both as a science and an art. In the series of books 
which followed, was comprehended a section on physical 
science, the first time, as far as we were aware, of any- 
thing of the kind having been attempted in a form 
addressed to common understandings. Of the series 
of books my brother wrote several, including History of 
the British Einpire, and History of the Ettg/ish Language 
a?id Literature, this being the first time that anything of 
the kind had been attempted as a class-book. The 
series now extends to upwards of a hundred volumes, 
the diffusion of which has been greater than I care to 

To ac([uire some knowledge of the state of educa- 
tion, and the nature of the treatises employed, in the 
kingdom of the Netherlands, I made a deliberate journey 
through that country in 1838, visiting the schools in the 
principal towns. What fell under notice was described 
in a Tour in Holland and the RJiine Countries (1839), and 
it vindicated the j)lan which had been adopted in con- 
structing our Educational Course free of matter that could 
lead to controversy. No more need be said of the Course 
than that it met with a friendly reception at home and in 
the colonies, and that this acceptability is still increasing. 

Writing to his old friend Wilson at Poughkeepsic in 

266 MEMOIR. 

1835, my brother says : ' I am continuing to pursue that 
course of regular plodding industry which you have 
witnessed since its commencement. Personally, I have 
now hardly anything to do with business, but I partici- 
pate with my elder brother in the great advantage of 
uniting the duties of a publisher with those of an author. 
Of \he Journal, about sixty thousand are now sold; and 
in England the circulation is steadily rising. That work 
seems now indeed received and sanctioned as a powerful 
moral engine for the regeneration of the middle and 
lower orders of society. We have just commenced the 
publication of a series of educational works, designed to 
embrace education — physical, moral, and intellectual — 
according to the most advanced views. To all appear- 
ance, this will also be a successful undertaking. While 
my brother has been married two years without any 
surviving children, I have now no fewer than four. . . . 
We all enjoy good health ; and I often think I realise 
in my domestic circle that happiness which authors have 
endeavoured to represent as visionary. Men, it is 
allowed, are apt to speak of things as they find them ; 
and, for my part, I would say that it is possible to lead 
the life of a literary man without any of those grievances 
and evil passions which others picture as inseparable 
from the profession. I envy none, despise none, but, 
on the contrary, yield due respect to all, whether above 
or beneath me. I am but little disposed to pine for 
higher honours than I possess : they come steadily, and 

\ I am content to wait till they come. The result is, that 
hardly such a thing as an annoyance ever breaks the 
calm tenor of my life, and that there is not one person 

I with whom I was ever acquainted whom I cannot meet 
as a friend.' 


From 1835 to 1837, as is seen by my brother's papers, 
he was in pretty frequent communication with Hugh 
Miller on literary subjects. Settled at Cromarty as an 
assistant in a bank, Miller had some spare time on his 
hands, which he wished to devote to writing stories and 
other articles for Chambers's Journal ; the reading of 
that periodical having apparently been to him a means 
of mental stimulus. Limits, unfortunately, do not admit 
of the insertion of Miller's letters in full. In one, 
dated 19th March 1835, he refers to the difficulties 
he had encountered in acquiring a facility in writing 
for the press : 

'Oblige me by accepting the accompanying volume. It 
contains, as you will find, a good many heavy pieces, and 
abounds in all the faults incident to juvenile productions, 
and to those of the imperfectly taught ; but you may here 
and there meet with something to amuse you. I have heard 
of an immensely rich trader who used to say he had more 
trouble in making his first thousand pounds than in making 
all the rest. I have experienced something similar to this 
in my attempts to acquire the art of the writer — but I have 
not yet succeeded in making my first thousand. My forth- 
coming volume, which I trust I shall be able to send you 
in a few weeks, will, I hope, better deserve your perusal. 
And yet I am aware it has its heavy pieces too — dangerous- 
looking sloughs of dissertation in which I well-nigh lost 
myself, and in which I had no small risk of losing my 
readers. One who sits down to write for the public at a 
distance of two hundred miles from the capital, has to labour 
under sad disadvantages in his attempts to catch the tone 
which chances to be popular at the time ; more especially, 
if, instead of having formed his literary tastes in that tract 
of study which all the educated classes have to pass through, 
he has had to pick them up by himself in nooks and by- 
corners where scarcely any one ever picked them up before. 

268 MEMOIR. 

Among educated men, the starting-note, if I may so express 
myself, is nearly the same all the world over, and what 
wonder if the after-tones should harmonise ; but alas for 
his share of the concert who has to strike up on a key of his 
own. . . . All my young friends here, and I have a great 
many, are highly delighted with your volume of Ballads.' 

Some years later, Mr Miller made distinct overtures to 
be a contributor. Under date 14th September 1837, he 
writes : 

* I have been a reader of your Journal for the last five 
years — a pleased and interested reader ; and a few days ago 
the thought struck me that, so far at least as one contributor 
goes, I might also be a writer for it. . . . I have been 
writing a good deal of late — mostly stories ; but the vehicle 
in which I have given them to the public ' [a collection of 
tales] ' does not c^uite satisfy me. Some of my brother- 
contributors are rather more stupid than is agreeable in 
one's associates ; and besides, there is less pleasure in 
writing sense in the name of another than in one's own. 
Every herring should hang by its own head. May I ask 
you, without presuming too far on your good-nature and the 
kindness you have already shewn me, to read one or two of 
my stories, and say at your convenience whether I might 
not find some way of disposing of such to better advantage. 
.... I send you also a copy of verses which I addressed 
about two years ago to a lady, who has since become my 
wife. I do not know that they have much else besides their 
sincerity to recommend them, but sincerity they have. It 
is, I believe, Cowper who tells us that " the poet's lyre should 
be the poet's heart."' 

The articles sent were duly acknowledged and 
inserted. Others followed in 1838, chiefly of familiar 
papers on geology. It is one of the things to look 
back upon with gratification, that Hugh Miller had 


been, not only an early reader of, but a contributor of 
interesting papers to, Chambers's Journai. 

Shortly after this period, considerable additions were 
made to our establishment, to meet the requirements 
of an ever-growing business. It is not the purpose, 
however, of the present Memoir to diverge into any 
account of the various enterprises in which we happened 
to engage. Only two may be mentioned as peculiarly 
furthering the distribution of a cheap, and, as it was 
hoped, useful species of publications among tlie less 
affluent classes in the community. One of these under- 
takings was Chambers's Miscellany of Useful and Enter- 
taining Tracts, a work completed in twenty volumes, 
adapted for parish, school, regimental, prison, and similar 
libraries. The circulation was immense; and to keep 
the work abreast of the age, it has recently undergone 
considerable revision. 

The other of these enterprises was one which exceeded 
all former efforts. This was Chambers's Encyclopcedia^ 
a Dictionary of Universal Knowledge for the People — a 
work begun in 1859, and which continued to be issued 
till its completion in ten volumes in 1868. Unless with 
the assistance of a large and varied body of contributors, 
a book of this comprehensive nature could not have 
been attempted. This assistance was procured, and 
what was of greater importance, Dr Andrew Findlater 
entered with much spirit into our views, and brought 
his erudition and habits of assiduous literary labour into 
exercise as acting editor. For all parties, however, the 
task was herculean. In commencing the work, my 
brother and I felt excusable in describing it as our 
'crowning effort in cheap and instructive literature.' 

When we entered on the undertaking, it was 


270 MEMOIR. 

considerably more than a hundred years since Ephrairn 
Chambers gave to the world his Cydopcedia or Universal 
Dictionary of Knoivledge — the prototype, as it proved to 
be, of a number of similar works in Britain as well as 
in other countries, which must have contributed in no 
small measure to increase the sum of general intelli- 
gence. In nearly all these works there was a tendency 
to depart from the plan of their celebrated original, as 
concerns some of the great departments of science, 
literature, and history; these being usually presented, 
not under a variety of specific heads, as they commonly 
occur to our minds when information is required, but 
aggregated in large and formal treatises, such as in them- 
selves form books of considerable bulk. By such a 
course, it is manifest that the serviceableness of an 
encyclopsedia as a dictionary of reference is greatly 
impaired, whatever be the advantages which on other 
points are gained. The Germans, in their Conversatioiis 
Lexicon, were the first to bring back the encyclopaedia to 
its original purpose of a dictionary. The Penny Cyclo- 
pcedia was another effort in the same direction, but it 
was extended to such dimensions as to put it out of the 
reach of the very classes for whom it was designed. 
Our object was to give a comprehensive yet handy and 
cheap Dictionary of Universal Knowledge; no subject 
being treated at greater length than was absolutely 
necessary. As now completed, it will be for the world 
to judge whether the work realises the object aimed at. 

It would have been impossible to give concentrated 
attention to the various works mentioned, as well as to 
those of which Robert was exclusively the author or 
editor, without a proper organisation in one large 
establishment. As regards Charnbcrs's Journal, we were 


fortunate in having a succession of able and zealous 
literary assistants, to whom be every acknowledgment. So 
aided, and with twelve printing-machines and a variety 
of other apparatus set to work, there was at length a fair 
average produce of fifty thousand sheets of one kind 
or other daily. The concern might be called a great 
book factory, or perhaps more properly, a literary 
organisation, somewhat original in character. Under 
one roof were combined the operations of editors, com- 
positors, stereotypers, wood-engravers, printers, book- 
binders, and other labourers — all engaged in the 
preparation and dispersal of books and periodicals. 
The assemblage of so many individuals in various 
departments, actuated by a common purpose, suggested 
the idea of annual entertainments to all in our employ- 
ment The first of these entertainments, which had 
for its express object the promotion of a good feeling 
between employers and employed, took place in the 
summer of 1838. The meeting was in the form of a 
temperance soiree, with some slight refreshments and 
music. It was held in one of the large apartments of 
our printing-office ; and to grace the assemblage, some 
persons of local distinction were invited. Among the 
notabilities who attended on the occasion were Lords 
Murray and Cunningham, also Mr James Simpson, a 
keen educationist, but best remembered for his amusing 
account of a visit to the field of Waterloo, shortly after 
the battle. Usually at these soirees there were about 
two hundred of all classes, and of both sexes, present — 
all in evening dress, and joyous for the occasion. In 
the intervals of the instrumental music, addresses were 
delivered, and songs were sung; on one occasion, as 
I have pleasure in remembering, George Thomson 

272 MEMOIR. 

dcliglited the company with the song of the * Posie,' the 
warbling of which sent the mind back to 1792, when 
our national bard was pouring forth his matchless lyrics. 
The addresses on both sides were of that friendly nature 
which was calculated to promote a spirit of mutual 
amity not to be forgotten. 

The presence of my mother was a pleasing feature 
at the earlier of these annual soire'es. Now at an 
advanced age, but retaining her buoyancy of feelings, 
she entered sympathisingly into the spirit of the occa- 
sion. Grateful for many unexpected blessings, her 
existence drew placidly to a close. She died in 1843, 
having exemplified in her life the brightest virtues that 
can adorn the matronly character. 


Robert's later works — 1842 to 1865. 

A LTHOUGH diligently engaged in conducting 
■^^- Chambers^s Jourtial, and aiding me in considering 
matters requiring joint consideration, Robert did not 
desist from miscellaneous literary undertakings. With 
only intervals of indulgence in his cheerful social circle, 
he was constantly occupied — sometimes on papers for 
our periodical, sometimes on a book of an educa- 
tional nature, and sometimes on miscellaneous works 
involving much thought and labour. Going off occa- 
sionally on an excursion to the west of Scotland, he 
completed, in conjunction with Professor Wilson, an 
elaborate work on the Land of Bur }is, which, extending 
to two highly embellished quarto volumes, is understood 
to have rewarded the enterprise of the publishers by 
whom it had been undertaken. 

The success of his small educational book on English 
literature, led to the conception of a work vastly more 
comprehensive. He projected a Cyclopccdia of Em^Iish 
Literature, that should form a history, critical and 
biographical, of British authors, from the earliest to the 
present times, accompanied with a systematised series 
of extracts — a concentration of the best productions of 

274 MEMOIR. 

English intellect, headed by Chaucer, Shakspeare, 
Milton — by More, Bacon, Locke — by Hooker, Taylor, 
Barrow — by Addison, Johnson, Goldsmith — by Hume, 
Robertson, Gibbon — and more lately by Byron and 
Scott — set in a biographical and critical history of the 
literature itself. This was certainly no mean enterprise. 
The end which, if possible, was to be attained, was the 
training of an entire people to venerate the thoughtful 
and eloquent of the past and present times. ' These 
gifted beings,' it was justly observed, 'may be said to 
have endeared our language and institutions — our 
national character, and the very scenery and artificial 
objects which mark our soil — to all who are acquainted 
with, and can appreciate their writings.' 

The work to be executed was the first of its kind. 
There existed various collected specimens from the 
writings of eminent British authors, with and without 
critical remarks, but until now nothing of a cyclopedic 
character had been attempted. It being impossible, 
with all my brother's self-sacrificing diligence, to execute 
so onerous a task single-handed, he besought and 
received the aid of his friend, Dr Robert Carruthers of 
Inverness, who, both by his literary tastes and profes- 
sional pursuits, was eminently qualified to co-operate in 
the undertaking. Completed in two volumes octavo, 
and issued in 1844, the Cydopcedia of English Literature 
had a most successful career, and continues to be 
popular, not only for private reading, but as a book for 
the higher class of students. A new edition, consider- 
ably extended, was lately prepared by. Dr Carruthers, 
and is now published. 

In the framework of this work may be recognised 
the deep aftection with which Robert regarded the 


compositions of many of our popular writers. Speaking 
of these productions in a paper styled, ' What English 
Literature gives us,' he says truly : * English literature 
gives all who can enjoy it a fund of pleasure, of the 
great amount of which we are not apt to be quite aware 
till we run over a few of the items. There are the 
Waverley Novels — in direct contemplation, only the 
talk of an old-fashioned Scotch gentleman, who died a 
few years ago — or, in a still more gross consideration, 
but a few masses of printed paper. Yet, in effect, what 
are they ! To how many thousands upon thousands 
has hfe been made less painful or more delightful by 
these charming tales ! The world would have gone on 
without them, no doubt, but it would not have gone on 
so agreeably. There would have been an infinite deal 
less happiness in it during the last twenty-five years, if 
they had not been written. How much has been done 
for our enjoyment even by one or two of the characters 
— Caleb Balderstone, for instance, or Dugald Dalgetty, 
or Dominie Sampson. These are ideal beings, but do 
we not feel positively richer by knowing them — by having 
it in our power at any time to call them up before our 
minds, and inwardly smile at what is ludicrous about 
them ? In like manner, is it not a luxurious sympathy 
which we feel respecting the fortunes of Ravenswood, 
all imaginary as he is. These beings take their place 
among our acquaintance, and the most delightful of all 
acquaintance they are. We have only to take up a 
book, and lo ! we mingle at once in their society, as if 
unconsciously carried into it through the air. Such 
books are as show-holes in the walls of this common 
world, through which to look into one full of the gay, 
the romantic, and the beautiful. The blind may be 

276 MEMOIR. 

slipped aside, and our eye applied, in the smokiest of 
cottages, as in the most gorgeous of palaces, and the 
fairy scene will be the same in each case. And we 
command the show at any time. It will lull us after the 
excitement and fatigues of labour, and it will beguile us 
of the languor of monotonous retirement and solitude. 
We may be sad or joyous, eager and full of hope, or 
mistrustful of all the good things of life ; but our acci- 
dental mood is of no consequence when we have once 
fixed ourselves at the raree-show of the Waverley fictions, 
for then all of ourselves sinks, except the consciousness 
of great enjoyment.' And so on he runs over many of 
our popular prose and poetic fictions, pointing out their 
value as an imperishable inheritance. 

Of Scottish songs and ballads, Robert had a volumi- 
nous collection, which he esteemed as a literary treasure. 
In 1844, while engaged on the Cyclopcedia, he took a 
fancy for securing the airs to those Border ballads which 
were still uncollected. In this object he was aided by 
the singing of various ballads by persons acquainted 
with Liddesdale — one of them, the late John Shortrede 
of Jedburgh, a son of Sir Walter Scott's friend of that 
name. The result was the printing for private circulation 
of Twelve Romantic Scottish Ballads, with the Original 
Airs — a brochure now exceedingly scarce. 

A general desire being expressed to possess my 
brother's essays and some other productions in a separate 
form, they were collected and published, 1847, under 
the title of Select Writings, in seven volumes, for which 
several characteristic illustrations were furnished by 
David Roberts, R.A., and others. A copy having been 
presented by the author to his friend, D. M. Moir — the 
* Delta ' of Blackiuood — it was acknowledged as follows : 


* Allow me to congratulate you on the publication of your 
Select Writings — a thing which you owe to yourself and your 
family, and of which both will have reason to be proud. . . . 
In these days of flash and fury, when a certain class of 
writers seem to think that a work is valuable only in as far 
as it departs from the regions of good taste and common 
sense, the essays will stand forth as a beacon to the unwary, 
and as a token that some minds have escaped the infection. 
Nor can I doubt that they will attain a large degree of 
popularity, which they deserve. In last night glancing 
through the volumes, I have again made myself more 
intimate with many old acquaintances — highly characteristic 
of Scotland and the author, and equally creditable to our 
" auld respectit mother," and to her son.' 

It will probably be allowed that the essays compre- 
hended in three volumes of these Select Writings were 
the most original of my brother's productions. In them 
were seen his depth of thought on moral and economic 
subjects, also his sense of humour, with power of dis- 
criminating character. Readers of Chambers's Journal 
will remember the recurring weekly pleasure of reading 
these essays : ' General Invitations,' ' The Pleasures of 
Unhapijiness,' ' The House of Numbers,' * The Uncon- 
fined,' ' Danger of Appearing Ill-used,' ' The Down- 
draught,' &c. In a preceding chapter, a specimen of 
the more humorous class of papers is given in 'The 
Candlemaker-Row Festival.' 

The essay on the ' Danger of Appearing Ill-used,' was 
partly suggested by personal experiences. My brother 
and I had early discovered the advantage of taking 
everything in a placid, or at least unresentful spirit of 
endurance. Often we had occasion to laugh at, as well 
as compassionate, men who seriously injured themselves 
in general esteem by iterating troublesome complaints 

278 MEMOTR. 

of misusage ; and felt convinced that, ill possibly as such 
persons had been treated, it would on the whole have 
been better for them to remain discreetly silent — a cir- 
cumstance reminding us, that in the injunction, 'whoso- 
ever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the 
other also,' there is wrapt up a sound philosophy which 
the world has been slow to recognise. Conversations 
with Robert on this subject, led him to write the essay 
in question, from which, for the sake of the advices it 
offers, a few passages may be quoted. 

'It is extremely dangerous for any one who wishes to 
make his way in the world, to appear ill-used — it is so sure 
to afford some presumption not quite favourable to him. 
The clever, the well-born, the wealthy, the agreeable — all 
whom nature or accident has placed in a situation to be 
looked up to or courted by their fellow-creatures — rarely 
have any occasion to describe themselves as ill-used. It is 
the opposite classes in general who are not well used by 
their fellow-creatures — the stupid and troublesome, because 
nobody can endure them ; the poor and lowly, because no- 
body cares anything about them. Such has been the way 
of the world since its beginning, and all our associations 
are formed accordingly. Hence, when any one is heard 
complaining of being ill-used, he is more apt to be set down 
as one of the latter than of the former classes — a circum- 
stance which may be in no respect discreditable to him, but 
which, nevertheless, is not likely to be favourable to his 
prospects. No matter how real may be the wrongs he has 
suffered, or how eminently entitled they may be to sympathy. 
Few have opportunities of becoming satisfied of their 
reality ; and even if sympathy be extended, it does no good. 
The general impression is bad, and he finds too late that, 
by complaining of ill-usage, he has only put himself in the 
way of continuing to be ill-used. 


ILL-USED PEor^pig 279 

* Of all the evils which arise from litiga.-on, decidedly the 
worst is the effect which it sometimes has /"' putting vcvcn 
into the position of ill-used people. Most men who think 
themselves wronged by law and lawyers have the good 
sense to absorb the injury, and appear as if they felt it nOw 
But there are a few natures which do not easily brook wrong. 
These persons, foolishly thinking to avenge or redress them- 
selves by an appeal to the world, trumpet forth their injuries 
wherever they go, and make themselves intolerable to all 
around them, by long recitals of their case in all its details. 
They take on the character of ill-used people, and soon ex- 
perience the natural consequences in the cold regards of 
their fellow-creatures. It is of course horridly base for those 
who once smiled upon them in prosperity, now to shun 
them in their adversity ; but the plain truth is, that it is not 
in human nature long to endure a man who is always telling 
how ill he has been used. 

' Let no one, then, who wishes to attain or prescr\'e a 
respectable place in the world, ever appear as if he had been 
ill-used. If a young man of business, let him never tell that 
he has been cheated or worsted in any sort of way, for then 
he will appear as having been ill-used. If a young artist, 
let him never breathe a word as to the prejudice or ill-will 
of "that hanging committee," in putting his pictures up at 
the ceiling or down at the floor, for then he will be con- 
fessing that he has been ill-used. If a candidate for an 
office or place of any kind, let him carefully avoid all 
complaint as to the suppression of his testimonials, or the 
start allowed to his rivals in the canvass, for then he 
will be owning to ill-usage. If a wooer, let him utter no 
whisper of jilting or rejection, unless he be able to tell 
at the same moment with a cheerful face, that, while 
ill-used by one lady, he has been well-used by another. 
In short, let no man who values his prospects in this 
world, ever, by word, deed, or sigh, allow it to be supposed 
that he has ever been, is now, or believes he ever can be, 

28o MEMOTR. 

Whatever wa'^ the deptli of thought required in the 
compositior; of Robert's essays, they were for the most 
part Ayritten at a sitting, and needed scarcely any 
correction. Many were composed at spare intervals in 
the course of a journey. One of his best articles was 
written off-hand in an inn at Dundee, while waiting an 
hour for a stage-coach to take him up the Carse of 
Gowrie. Perhaps in the whole round of his four to 
five hundred essays and sketches, none was more 
appreciated for the delicacy of its conceptions than one 
which he designated ' Idea of an English Girl.' It 
might almost be conjectured that his fanciful notions on 
this idyllic theme, had been partly suggested by the 
unaffected manners and happy looks of one or other of 
his own daughters. Essentially what is called a * family 
man,' he experienced immense delight in the society of 
his children, who were treated with the utmost tender- 
ness and consideration. Ultimately, he had eight 
daughters and three sons — the daughters charming girls, 
most of them with flaxen ringlets, all with pet names, and 
so merry and entertaining, that their presence shed a 
continual sunshine through the dwelling. Clustered 
round their mother, Mrs R. Chambers, a woman of 
brilliant musical powers, much vivacity, and of literary 
tastes — the ' Mrs Balderston ' of a number of amusing 
essays — the evening musical parties were now more 
enjoyable than ever ; for, by way of variety, the girls in 
their childish glee would sing together some droll and 
lively ditty, to the delight of the company. For some 
purpose connected with his young family, my brother 
removed to St Andrews ; his residence being a villa 
called Abbey Park, prettily situated outside the town. 
While here in 1843, he interspersed his usual literary 


occupations with writing pieces of verse concerning his 
children — the daughters, of course, coining in for the 
largest share of these rhyming fancies. 

In 1840, Robert was elected a member of the Koyal 
Society of Edinburgh, from which time to 185O he 
carried on an extensive epistolary correspondence \vitil 
men of literary and scientific repute ; and at this period 
he often visited London, where he mingled in the 
society of men of letters. His mind had become 
occupied with speculative theories which brought him 
into communication mth Sir Charles Bell, George 
Combe, his brother Dr Andrew Combe, Dr Neil 
Amott, Professor Edward Forbes, Dr Samuel Brown, 
and other thinkers on physiology and mental philosophy. 
Of Sir Charles Bell, he says in a note, on hearing of the 
sudden death of that eminent surgeon and physiologist 
(1842) : 'Sir Charles was my father at the Royal Society 
— a most ingenious, excellent man.' He had likewise, in 
a more particular manner, acquired a fancy for geo- 
logical investigations, which introduced him to another 
class of inquirers. Returning to Edinburgh, and resid- 
ing at Doune Terrace, his house was open to all 
strangers of literary or scientific tastes who were pleased 
to visit him ; and he now may be said to have acquired 
a wide circle of acquaintances. His conversaziones at 
this period will still be remembered. Often they had 
some specific object, such as shewing antiquities of 
historical interest, and saying something regarding them 
for the amusement of the guests ; or of discussing some 
curious point in geology that had lately been exciting 
remark — for example, the traces of glacial action dis- 
closed on the face of a huge boulder by the cutting 
of the Queen's Drive on Arthur's Seat. AV^ith sucli 

282 MEMOIR. 

phenomena a^ this he was familiar, as is seen by his 
communications to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. 

My brother took up geology, not as a plaything, but 
as a matter to be pursued with his usual quiet earnest- 
ness of purpose. He went off from time to time on 
trips to different parts of England, Scotland, and Ire- 
land; his explorations, however, being confined in a 
great measure to the sea-coast, the shores of lakes, and 
banks of rivers, in order to trace the mutations that had 
in the course of ages taken place on the earth's surface, 
as regards the relative level of sea and land. 

These excursions in quest of ' raised beaches,' resem- 
bling artificial terraces on the face of hills and rising 
grounds at some hundreds of feet above the present 
surface of the ocean, were carried on with a steady 
enthusiasm for a series of years. He, in particular, took 
much interest in elucidating the character of the ' par- 
allel roads of Glenroy,' which, by inveterate legend, had 
been represented as pathways constructed for the Fin- 
gallian heroes. Pennant thought it probable that the 
country people were right in entertaining this legendary 
notion. Playfair considered that the ' roads ' were the 
remains of ancient aqueducts. Dr Macculloch, followed 
by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, endeavoured to explain 
that they were produced by fresh- water lakes which from 
time to time had burst out. By M. Agassiz, Dr Buck- 
land, and Mr Lyell, the ' roads ' were imputed to glacial 
action. Mr Danvin pronounced them to be a result 
of upheaval of the land. This theory met with a 
formidable challenge from Mr David Milne (now Mr 
Milne-Home), who very satisfactorily shewed that the 
' roads ' were markings left by successive retrocessions 
of the sea at an early period of the earth's history. 


Such views coincided with those of my brother, who, 
besides accompanying Mr Milne on some of his explora- 
tions, went alone to Glenroy, and made minute investi- 
gations all over the district, as will be seen by his work, 
Anciefit Sca-Margijis (1848), in which the whole subject 
is treated with his usual lucidity. 

To carry out the explorations which ensued in the 
above work, he was impelled to attempt a remedy for 
that ill-executed surgical operation on his feet shortly 
after his birth, and which had entailed years of suffer- 
ing. A fresh operation performed by that eminent 
surgeon. Professor James Syme, proved altogether suc- 
cessful Robert was ever afterwards able to encounter 
the fatigues incidental to pedestrian excursions, and to 
go with more cheerfulness into general society. 

He became an untiring advocate of the principles of 
life-assurance, on which subject he wrote a tract, in the 
form of a familiar dialogue, that, issued at a small price, 
had a circulation of several hundred thousand copies. 
The explanations offered did much to stimulate life- 
assurance among certain classes in the community; and 
of this we had numerous and gratifying proofs. Robert 
did not confine himself to theory. As an insurer for the 
benefit of his family, he connected himself with an emi- 
nently well-managed and trustworthy institution, the 
Scottish Equitable Life Assurance Society, in which 
he became a director, and regularly attended the meet- 
ings, unless when absent on his explorations. 

On the occasion of an annual dinner of the directors 
of the Assurance Society, he had the misfortune, while 
on a geological excursion in Lanarkshire, to be detained 
at a small inn at Harestanes. To while away the very 
dreary evening, he wrote the following rhymed epistle, 

284 MEMOIR. 

addressed to W. S. Wcilker of Bowland, with whom, as 
a co-director, he should that day have dined : 


' My chair and my plate will be empty to-night 
(Thus sadly an errant Director complains), 
For while they are feasting o'er platters so bright, 
Fate binds me to tea and a chop at Harestanes ! 

O Walker, be not at my absence offended, 

'Tis I, and not you, who condolence may claim ; 

Did you know but how sadly your colleague 's been stranded. 
You would say that his stars, and not he, were to blame. 

And did you but see him now scribbling forlorn, 

With his one mutton candle that waves in the breeze. 

In the worst inn's best room all so tattered and torn, 
With its small fire within half an inch of his knees. 

And did you but hear how the mail had deceived him. 
How posting had failed like a dream in his clutch. 

How for twice twenty hours disappointment had grieved him, 
You would say he already is punished too much. 

Nor yet is he sure that his troubles are ended. 

From London he might in less time have come down ; 
And should he not be by the night-coach befriended, 

It may be half a week yet before he reach town. 

So much for cross roads, and so much for long stages 
(Thus musing our errant Director complains) ; 

He could scarce wish Old Scratch, in his direst of rages, 
A Tantalean evening thus spent at Harestanes ! ' 

In his numerous excursions, whether connected with 
geology or objects of historical and antiquarian interest, 
Robert made many friends. One of these was the 
late John M'Diarmid, editor of the Diunfries Courier., 
Of this estimable literary man, my brother gleefully 
related an anecdote, which is here subjoined from his 
uncollected writings. 


* Mr M'Diarmid is one of those ingenious writers 
who gather a fund of information by the means recom- 
mended by Sir Walter Scott in the Waverley Novels. 
Whenever he falls in with a stranger, he studies to 
learn what is his trade or bent of his mind. It does 
not matter who he is ; he may be a nabob from India, 
or a saddler from Annan — that is all one. Within an 
hour, he has got everything out of him worth knowing. 
This practice is incessant and invariable on the part 
of the ingenious editor. To prove that it is so, we 
may mention an anecdote. Our lot was once so cast 
as to travel a week with M'Diarmid through Galloway. 
One evening, at the inn of Glenluce, we had occasion 
to wait till midnight, that we might be taken up by 
the mail, which was to carry us on to Stranraer. 
Between ten and eleven, we felt so much fatigued that 
we stretched our length upon a sofa, and took an hour's 
sleep. While we were so occupied, our indefatigable 
companion strolled into the kitchen, where a miscel- 
laneous group of travellers and villagers was assembled 
around a blazing fire ; in particular, there was one 
person present, a poor wayworn being, who, in his 
youth, had been a cork-cutter. To him M'Diarmid 
forthwith attached himself in the way described, and 
the result was, that, after we were seated in the mail, 
on the way to Stranraer, he boasted of having, while 
we were enjoying our inglorious sleep, made himself 
master of " the whole statistics of cork-cutting! " ' 

In the summer of 184S, Robert went eagerly off on 
a visit to Rhineland and Switzerland, with a view to 
satisfy himself on the subject of glacial action, the 
theories regarding which, of Agassiz and Forbes, had 
lately raised much interest among geologists. As 


Norway was known to offer some striking examples of 
the effects produced by glaciers, he resolved to proceed 
thither. Quitting Edinburgh in the latter part of June 
1849, he arrived at Gottenburg, from which he made 
a journey through Sweden and Norway — sometimes 
going by steam-vessels, sometimes by carrioles, and at 
other times by boats on the fiords that indent the 
coast ; but always making explorations on foot wherever 
it was expedient to do so. The result of the excur- 
sion was given in a series of papers in Chambers's 
Journal at the close of 1849 and beginning of 1850, 
under the title of Tracings of the North of Europe. 
Besides any scientific value attaching to these papers, 
they offered amusing sketches of the social condition of 
the country as far as Hammerfest, or nearly to the 
seventy-first degree of north latitude. 

Speaking of the climate at Trondhiem, which is placed 
somewhere in the sixty-third parallel, and therefore 
about the same latitude with the south of Iceland, he 
says : ' An Englishman naturally expects to find it a 
place of cold and harsh appearance, possibly occupied 
by people wearing skin-dresses, with the wool inner- 
most; whereas, everything looks pretty and in good 
order, the ladies and gentlemen as well dressed as those 
of any town of its size in England. As regards climate, 
I can testify that, on the 17th July, it was barely pos- 
sible to walk the streets during the day on account of 
the intense heat' In proceeding from this place to 
Hammerfest by steamer, he landed on the occasion of 
a young gentleman, a native, reaching home, and here 
he was struck with the kindly manners of the people. 
* The simplicity, united with education and good 
manners, recalled the pleasant pictures which Johnson 


and Bosvvell give of the life and state of the Hebridcan 
gentry — the Macleans and Macleods of seventy years 
ago ; pictures which, I may remark, are rapidly attaining 
a historical value. Unaffected kindness beamed in the 
foces of all towards the strangers, and when we came 
away, they accompanied us to our boats.' 

These accounts of the Norwegians form the most 
agreeable part of the narrative. A few passages may 
be presented descriptive of a scene when boating with 
some fellow-travellers in the Altenfiord : 


' In the afternoon, after rowing upwards of twenty miles, 
we began to approach Komagfiord, where we designed to 
spend the night. The washed, shattered coast here presents 
remarkable disturbances of the slate strata, with curious 
interjections, veinings, and contortions. Many blocks ap- 
pear, lying on the slate, of totally different kinds of rock, 
and therefore presumably brought from a distance. By- 
and-by terraces begin to appear, with many of these travelled 
blocks reposing on them. Such stones speak, and the talc 
which they tell is as truthful, perhaps more truthful, than 
most of those narrated in black and white. 

' At length, at an early hour of the evening, we turned 
into a comparatively small, but sheltered and almost land- 
locked recess, where we first see palings along the green 
hill-sides, indicating pastoral farming, and then a neat house 
seated a little way back from the shore, with a number of 
smaller buildings scattered near it, including one which 
advances as a wharf into the sea. That pretty red and 
yellow mansion, so riant with its clean dimity window- 
curtains, and a little garden in front, is the kiopman's house 
of Komagfiord. It has a small porch in the centre, with 
a wooden esplanade and a short flight of steps descending 
on cither hand. A good-looking man, in the prime of life, 
leans over the rail at the wharf to receive us as we land. 

288 MEMOIR. 

We are met by him with a few courteous words in Enj^lish ; 
we present our letter of recommendation for Mr Buch, 
the kiopman, who presently appears, a bulkier and older 
man, of remarkably open genial countenance, reminding 
me much of Cowper's description, though not exactly true 
so far as dress is concerned : 

" An honest man, close-buttoned to the chin, 
Broadcloth without, and a warm heart within." 

He meets us with welcome, and we are speedily conducted, 
with our baggage, to the house, a few steps from the shore, 
where we are at once introduced into a clean parlour, 
adorned with family portraitures and some of the favourite 
prints of Sweden and Norway, particularly the never-absent 
royal family. Mr Buch, however, does not speak any lan- 
guage besides his own. He only looks the welcome he feels. 
His wife presently appears, a pleasant-looking matron ; like- 
wise his daughter and sole child, whom we by-and-by dis- 
cover to be the wife of the younger man. Two or three 
little children, too, the offspring of the young couple, make 
their way into the room to see those extraordinary beings 
the English strangers. The younger man, Mr Fantrom, 
knowing a good deal of English, we speedily, through that 
channel, become acquainted with the whole of this amiable 
family, from whom I was eventually to receive a greater 
amount of kindness than it almost ever was my lot to 
experience from strangers. We desired, of course, to be 
considered as travellers taking advantage in all courtesy of 
the obligation under which the kiopman lies to receive such 
persons into his house ; but it will be found that we could 
not induce our kind hosts to regard us in that light. The 
family seemed to be in very comfortable circumstances, and 
the union in which the three generations lived together was 
beautiful to contemplate. I shall not soon, I trust, forget 
the kiopman's house of Kamagfiord. 

' After the refreshment of tea — for we had taken a good 
luncheon at sea — we went out to examine the neighbouring 


grounds, and soon ascertained that a terrace of dctrital 
matter and blocks goes entirely roinid the little valley, at 
the height of about sixty-four feet above the sea. Walking 
along it round the angle which divides the fiord from the 
open sea in Varg Sund, we find it become a terrace of 
erosion on the rough coast there, with huge blocks every- 
where encumbering its surface — blocks of foreign rocL Mr 
Fantrom obligingly went along with us over this ground, 
and seemed glad when I could employ him in holding the 
levelling staff for a few minutes. We soon found him a 
very sensible well-informed man, though geology and 
geodesy were new ideas to his mind. 

'The latter part of the evening proved extremely beauti- 
ful, and we were tempted to take seats on the esplanade in 
front of the door, to enjoy the cool but still balmy air, a 
delightful refreshment after the heat of the day. The little 
fiord lay hke glass below our feet, with a merchant sloop 
moored in the entrance ; the rugged mountains beyond the 
Sound rose clear into the bright blue sky, where the light 
was yet scarcely dulled. Mr Buch sat down with his long 
pipe, emitting alternate puffs of smoke, and sentences 
addressed to his son-in-law and grandchildren. The bustle 
of Mrs Buch engaged in her household duties made the 
smallest possible stir within. All besides was as calm as 
nature before the birth of sound. Having nothing better to 
do, I proposed at this juncture to bring out my flute, and play 
a few airs, provided it should be agreeable to all present. 

'This being cordially assented to, I proceeded to intro- 
duce the music of my native country to these simple- 
hearted Norwegians. The scenery and time seemed to 
give magic to what might otherwise perhaps have proved of 
very little interest; and finding my audience give unequiv- 
ocal tokens of being pleased with my performance, I was 
induced to go on from one tunc to another for fully an hour. 
It was curious to think of my audience hearing for the first 
time strains which are an inheritance of the heart to every 
Scottishuian from his earliest sense— to myself, fur instance, 

290 MEMOIR. 

since three years old— and to reflect on some of our national 
favourites, as the Flowers of the Forest, Loch Erroch 
Side, and the Shepherd's Wi'/e, now floating over the 
unwonted ground of a Norwegian fiord. With each air, 
in general, the idea of some home friend, with whom it is 
a favourite, was associated. There was scarcely one which 
did not take my mind back to some scene endeared by 
domestic aftection, or the love which, in common with 
every Scot, I cherish for the classic haunts of my native 
land. It was deeply interesting now to summon up all these 
associations in succession, in the presence of an alien family 
who could know nothing of them, and to whom it would 
have been in vain to explain them, but who, from that very 
incapability of sympathy, made them in the existing circum- 
stances fall only the more touchingly and penetratingly into 
my own spirit.' 

On returning from his northern excursion, my brother 
set to work on a subject for which he had long been 
accumulating materials — the Life and Works of Robert 
Burns. As the brilliant and painful history of Burns 
had been already written by seven of his countrymen, 
it might seem unnecessary to resume its considera- 
tion. Something, however, was wanting. There still 
survived persons who were acquainted ^vith the poet, 
but they were passing away, and now was the time for 
gathering from them such facts and reminiscences 
as might serve for a full and authentic biography. 
Among others whose memory might be reckoned on, 
was Burns's youngest sister, Mrs Begg; and she, on 
being communicated with, entered cordially into the 
project. George Thomson was also at hand, and glad 
to be of any service. As regards the works of the 
poet, a peculiar arrangement was contemplated. This 
consisted in presenting the various compositions in 


strict chronological order, in connection with the narra- 
tive, so that they might render up the whole light they 
were qualified to throw upon the history of the life and 
mental progress of Burns ; at the same time that a new 
significance was given to them by their being read in 
connection with the current of events and emotions 
which led to their production. Acting on this plan, 
and after minute personal investigations, the Life and 
Works of Robert Burns was produced in 1851. It was 
well received, and passed through several editions, to 
suit different classes of purchasers. 

Some years previously, in a great degree through 
the energetic efforts of my brother, a small pension 
on the roll of Her Majesty's Charities and Bounties 
for Scotland had been granted to Mrs Begg and her 
two daughters ; the government in this respect making 
up, as it were, for neglect on the score of Bums. To 
add to the pension, he set on foot the collection of 
a fund, which was moderately successful. In writing 
from Edinburgh, May 4, 1842,10 his wife at St Andrews, 
he says : ' On Monday, the first-fruits of my applica- 
tion for Bums's sister appeared in two tributes, one of 
ten pounds from Mr Tegg, bookseller; the other, ten 
guineas from Mr Procter, the poet Isn't that capital ? ' 
To increase these resources, the profits of a cheap 
edition of the Life and Works of Burns were set aside. 
The sum realised was not great, but it helped. Writing 
under date May 15, 1856, to a young American friend 
who had lately been in Scotland, he says : ' I am glad 
you saw old Mrs Bcgg, but it was a pity to miss the black 
eyes and intelligent face of her daughter, Isabella, who 
is a charming creature of her kind and sort, and more 
a reminiscence of Burns than even her mother Just 

292 MEMOIR. 

about a fortnight ago, W. & R. C. liad the pleasure 
of handing two hundred pounds to the Misses Begg> 
being the profits of the cheap edition of the Life and 
Works of Burns edited by me, as promised by us at 
the time of publication. This sum will lie at interest 
accumulating till Mrs Begg and her annuity cease, 
when, with one hundred and sixty pounds of the fund 
formerly collected for Mrs B., it will be sunk in dis- 
tinct annuities for the daughters. The result, with their 
several pensions of ten pounds, will place them above 
all risk of anything like want. They well deserve all 
that has been done for them by their self-devotion to 
their mother in less bright days. I have great pleasure 
in thinking of that happy family on the banks of Doon, 
and reflecting on the little services I have been able to 
render them.' 

Except in this private way, my brother, who 
modestly shrunk from all parade, never spoke of 
what he had helped to do for the poor and, in all 
respects, deserving relations of Burns. His exertions 
and liberal gift remained almost unnoted until unex- 
pectedly referred to in the Household Words of Mr 
Dickens ; the article on the occasion being a notice of 
the Burns' Centenary Commemoration at Edinburgh, in 
1859. The following paragraph from the article appeared 
in The Times, on the loth February of that year : 

Robert Burns and Robert Chambers. — The claim of 
our Edinburgh friends to be called out for favourable dis- 
tinction, arises, in our estimation, from the circumstance 
that one man happened to be present who has done some- 
thing for the memory of Burns besides talk about it. Among 
the list of toasts and speeches we find just two lines 
reporting that the company drank 'The Biographers of 


Burns/ and that Mr Robert Chambers acknowledged the 
toast. What Mr Robert Chambers said for Burns on this 
occasion is not mentioned in the report \vo read. The 
infinitely more important question of what he has done for 
Burns, we are in a position to answer without referring to 
reports. About seventeen years ago a grateful country had 
left Burns' sister, Mrs Begg, and her daughters in most 
impoverished circumstances, and Mr Robert Chambers set 
on foot a subscription for them. The result of the appeal 
thus made, and of a solemn Branch Burns' Commemoration, 
got up in Ayrshire, was a subscription amounting to some- 
thing less than ^400, of which the queen and court gave 
£fi\. As much was done with this pittance as could be 
done ; and it was sunk in an annuity for the three poor 
souls to live upon. Mrs Begg and her daughters were 
settled in a cottage in Ayrshire. Mr Robert Chambers 
then went bravely to work with his own hands and brains to 
help Burns' kindred for Burns' sake. After devoting 
admirable industry and research to the task, he produced 
The Life and Poems of Burns, in four volumes ; published 
the work in 1851, and devoted the first proceeds of the sale, 
£200, to the necessities of Mrs Begg and her daughters — 
thus giving from his own individual exertion more than 
half as much as the entire sum which all Scotland had 
given. — Dickens' Household Words. 

Immediately on the publication of the above, a note 
was written to my brother by Leigh Hunt. It c;ame 
into my hands only lately, and is too characteristic to 
be omitted : it was as follows : 

' Hammersmith, Feb. i \th. 
'Dear RorERT Chambers — You must take this, please, 
as a postscript to my last; so that you need not put your- 
self to the trouble of a reply ; but I could not help adding it, 
to tell you how delighted I was at seeing last night in Tiie 
Times the passage extracted from Household Words, 
respecting your Life and Wor^s of B ions, and what you did 

294 MEMOIR. 

with it for the poet's family. These are things which bring 
tears of admiration into one's eyes. I never heard of the 
circumstance before, or I should have spoken of it. It did 
not surprise me, for I already believed you to be a man 
capable of such things ; but it is affecting to see realised 
what one believes in. I often wish that half-a-dozen people 
whom I could choose, lived near one another, and could thus 
make each life half-a-dozen times what it is. I venture to 
say (for I suppose myself admitted to their society) that I 
should never give them a moment's pain, except for some 
grief common to all mortals, or for the approach of my own 
death ; and I feel sure they would give no other to myself. 
I shall see the whole article to-night in Household Words, 
which always come to me by the last Friday post ; but I 
could not wait. Your affectionate friend, 

Leigh Hunt.' 

In June 1855, he had an excellent opportunity of 
visiting the Faroe Islands and Iceland, and this, for 
geological reasons, he did not neglect. The Thar, a 
Danish screw war-steamer, touched at Leith on its way 
to Iceland, and at a certain charge six gentlemen were 
accommodated as passengers. It was a pleasant trip. 
Reikiavik, the capital of Iceland, was reached in safety ; 
and in a day or two began a journey, in a rude fashion, 
on the backs of ponies, to the famed Geysers, a distance 
of seventy miles across a wild country, with no proper 
places for rest or lodging. Yet, as he describes the 
excursion, it was, though rough, a novel, hilarious affair 
after all. At Thingvalla, the only accommodation for 
the night was to bivouac in the church, and the only 
means of lingual communication with the clergyman 
who acted as host was in a corrupt Latin. Robert 
made his couch in the pulpit. On the second day, the 
party got to a farm-house in the vicinity of the Geysers ; 


and next morning, some of these hot-water volcanoes 
were in ebullition. The chief curiosity is the Great 
Geyser, a kind of well, nine feet in diameter, and eighty- 
seven feet deep, from which were seen thrown up violent 
jets of water to a height of from seventy to a hundred 
feet. The heat of the water is extraordinary. ' It has 
been found that the water of the Great Geyser at the 
bottom of the tube has a temperature higher than that 
of ordinary boiling water, and this goes on increasing 
till an eruption takes place, immediately before which it 
has been found as high as 261° Fahrenheit,' or 49° above 
ordinary boiling-point — a circumstance inferring enor- 
mous compression under violent heat, until the water 
bursts out into the atmosphere. 

Returning by the way they had come, the excursion- 
ists were again glad to take up their quarters in the 
establishment of the parish minister, who, it appeared, on 
a cross-examination in Latin by my brother, supported a 
wife and eight children, performed his parochial duties, 
and travelled once a month to a preaching station 
eighteen miles distant — all for five-and-twenty pounds a 
year. 'We could not but wonder how so large a family, 
besides a horse, could be supported on means so small. 
In wandering about the place, I lighted upon his little 
stithy, which reminds me to tell that in Iceland a priest 
is always able to shoe your horse if required.' The little 
book in which these particulars were given, entided 
Tracings in Iceland and the Faroe Islands, was published 
in 1856. 

A number of years had elapsed since he wrote a 
llislory of Scotland for a series of books issued by 
Richard Bentley. The subject was so familiar that 
he now applied himself with zest to a work entitled 

29fi MEMOIR. 

the Domestic Annals of Scotland. It was comprised in 
three volumes. Two of these were issued in 1859, and 
a third appeared in 1861. The period over which the 
annals extended was from the Reformation to the 
Rebellion of 1745, nearly two hundred of the most 
interesting years in Scottish history. The work, how- 
ever, was not a history in the usual sense of the word. 
It consisted of a chronicle of occurrences of a familiar, 
sometimes amusing, nature beneath the region of history, 
but calculated to convey a correct notion of the man- 
ners, customs, passions, superstitions, and ignorance of 
the people — tlie pestilences, famines, and other extra- 
ordinary events which disturbed their tranquillity — the 
traits of false political economy by which their well-being 
was checked — and generally those things which enable 
us to see how our forefathers thought, felt, and suffered, 
and how, on the whole, ordinary life looked in their 
days. The materials for this assemblage of facts were 
searched for in public records, acts of parliament, 
criminal trials, private diaries, family papers, histories, 
biographies, journals of transactions, &c. — the whole 
amounting to nearly a hundred different authorities, 
while the passages selected were so strung together 
chronologically as to offer a progressive picture of the 
times. On this work, so laborious, yet coincident with 
his feelings, he occupied himself at times during five 
years without in any respect remitting his WTitings for 
Chambers' s /ouniai. 

Between 1853 and 1858, Robert had occasion to be 
frequently in London, partly from business and literary 
considerations, and partly to enjoy the converse of 
scientific friends. On the loth February 1857, in writing 
to his daughter Anne, he alluded to a club dinner he had 


been at, and the letter is so characteristic, that we 
present the following extract : 

' Yesterday, I went as the guest of Lord Ducie to the 
Geographical Society Club dinner, in the Thatched House 
Tavern, St James' Street. Sir Roderick I. Murchison 
was in the chair, with Count Chreptovitsch, the Russian 
ambassador, at his right hand ; next to him Lord Ducie, 
then myself; Sir Henry Rawlinson at my other side. 
This was very agreeable society. The ambassador is a 
pleasant-looking man of sixty-five, with white hair rather 
close clipped. His health was drunk very cordially, and 
he returned thanks in one brief sentence. Afterwards, 
Sir Roderick rose up and repeated as a communication 
from His Excellency, that the Russian government is 
quite with England in the Persian War. Sir George 
Pollock was my vis-^-vis, who conducted the army back 
from Afghanistan in 1843 — a quiet old man, the son of 
a saddler from Berwick, and brother of the Chief Baron, 
with whom I dined last week. 

* Having a momentary opportunity of conversing with 
the Russian ambassador, I told him of a large Russian 
vessel being thrown on the east coast of Aberdeenshire, 
in the time of the Regency of Mary of Guise (1542-60), 
when all the crew were saved, along with some persons 
of distinction, who were brought to the court at Edin- 
burgh, and hospitably entertained there; after wliirh 
they were conducted honourably to Berwick, and there 
passed into the dominions of the English sovereign, 
Mary. Seeing that he appeared to be interested in the 
story, I told him I should have much pleasure in send- 
ing him the particulars of the affair, remarking it was 
one of a much more pleasant nature for both countries 
than some that had taken place since; in which he 

298 MEMOIR. 

cordially agreed, and gave me his card that I might 
address the communication properly.' 

My brother became a member of the Merchant 
Company of Edinburgh, a guild or corporation of old 
date, existing mainly for beneficiary purposes, and 
which, by good management, has attained to wealth 
and importance ; being deservedly esteemed for its acts 
of public usefulness. As a member of this body, he in 
time was elected to fill the office of Master, such being 
the designation given to the president. While occupy- 
ing this honorary position, he delivered a lecture at an 
evening conversazione, 14th February 1859, on the 
subject of ' Edinburgh Merchants and Merchandise in 
Old Times,' which gratified a very numerous audience, 
and was aftenvards printed for general circulation. 
Into this lecture he threw a great variety of amusing 
facts collected in the course of his studies. The matter 
more particularly curious in the discourse consisted 
of statements regarding families of distinction through- 
out the country, which had sprung from persons who 
had carried on business, many of them in a humble style, 
in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 

The object of these illustrations was to shew how, by 
a course of sobriety and diligence in his calling, a man 
may rise to fortune, not only for his own advantage, but 
that of his descendants ; and to remind many who 
occupy a high social position what they owe to the 
thrift and plodding industry of their ancestors. The 
lecture was in my brother's best anecdotic style. He 
spoke of a Hamilton of the house of Innen\ack who 
was a trafficker in the West Bow, who acquired land, and 
fell as a gallant gentleman at the battle of Pinkie, 
leaving a son, who was ancestor of the Earls of 


Haddington, — Of Edward Hope, a shopkeeper in the 
Luckenbooths, who lived in Tod's Close in the Castle- 
hill, whose eldest son was the progenitor of all the 
Hopes who have stood conspicuous in rank, in wealth, 
and in public service in Scotland ; while from his 
younger son are descended the famous mercantile firm 
of the Hopes of Amsterdam, — Of Thomas Foulis, a 
goldsmith in the Parliament Close, who lent money to 
James VI., and had for requital a grant of the lead 
mines of Lanarkshire, which he worked with good 
result, and handed ultimately to his grand-daughter, 
who married James Hope, the ancestor of the Earls of 
Hopetoun, — Of John Trotter, who acquired by mer- 
chandise the means of purchasing the estate of Morton 
Hall, and thus laid the foundation of a family which 
still exists in great note and opulence. Another instance 
was that of James Riddell of that Ilk. This gendeman, 
after pursuing a business career for some time in 
Poland, where many Scotch youths then found occupa- 
tion, returned to Edinburgh about the year 1603, set up 
business there, married a lady of means styled Bessie 
Allan, and died a wealthy man. His son, who became 
a merchant in Leith, purchased the estate of Kinglass, 
which he left to a line of descendants. We cannot but 
view with interest the good sense of our gentry of two 
and three hundred years ago, in setting their younger 
sons to a career of useful and honourable industry, 
instead of allowing them idly to loiter at home, or go 
into the little better than idleness of a foreign military 
service. After citing numerous instances, he mentioned 
that a notable case was that of John Dalrymple, a cloth- 
merchant, younger brother of Lord Hailes, and great- 
grandson of the first Earl of Stair ; and then added : 

300 MEMOIR. 

'That so many landed families amongst us have 
descended from Edinburgh merchants, is no singular 
fact, for trade efflorescing into nobility is an old phe- 
nomenon in the south. There we have a Duke of Leeds 
descended from the apprentice of Sir William Hewit, 
the goldsmith ; the Wentworth Fitzwilliams, from a 
worthy London merchant, knighted by Henry VI IL 
From the nautical adventurer Phipps, of the time of 
Charles II., come the Earls of Mulgrave. Cornwallis is 
from a London merchant ; Coventry from a mercer ; 
Radnor from a silk manufacturer ; Warwick from a 
wool-stapler; Pomfret from a Calais merchant; Essex, 
Dartmouth, Craven, Tankerville, Darnley, Cowper, and 
Romney, have all had a similar origin. More recently 
ennobled families — the Dacres, the Dormers, the 
Dudley Wards, the Hills, the Caringtons — have all in 
like manner taken their rise from successful trade. It 
is an origin surely as honourable as dexterous courtier- 
ship, gifts of church lands, or medieval robbery and 

Contrasting old with new times, he concludes by 
observing that ' our predecessors had not merely to 
contend with the narrow resources of the country, and 
with the want of a thousand conveniences as regards 
transport of goods and conveyance of intelligence, but, 
worst of all, they had to struggle with their own ignor- 
ance, as well as with a host of erroneous principles of 
legislation, of which we are now happily rid.' 

Shortly after this, he edited and wTote an introduc- 
tory notice to a volume purporting to be the Memoirs 
of a Bankifig-Ziouse, by Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, 
Bart, author of the life of the poet Beattie. The bank- 
ing-house so signalised was that which was set on foot 


in Edinburgh by John Coutts & Co., who occupied as 
business premises an upper floor in the Parliament Close. 
The Coutts family were from Montrose, and began as 
corn-merchants and negotiators of bills of exchange. 
One of them, John Coutts, was Lord Provost of Edin- 
burgh in 1742. He had four sons — Patrick, John, 
James, and Thomas. By these the business was con- 
tinued, and received as apprentice the youthful Sir 
William Forbes, in 1754. In the whole round of 
biography, there is nothing finer by way of example to 
the young than the life of Sir William Forbes. Born in 
1739, heir to a baronetcy, and left fatherless at four 
years of age, without patrimony, he was, commercially 
speaking, a self-made man, though, like many youths in 
similar circumstances, he owed much to the care of an 
amiable and intelligent mother, who, dwelling in a small 
house in one of the dingy lanes of Edinburgh, main- 
tained on the most slender means the style and manners 
of a lady. Her son. Sir William, a boy fourteen years 
of age, instead of being bred to one of the ' learned pro- 
fessions,' was put apj)rcntice to Messrs Coutts ; from an 
apprentice, he became a junior clerk ; from a clerk, he 
rose to be a partner; and finally, when several of the 
partners died or quitted Edinburgh, the firm was trans- 
formed into that of Sir William Forbes & Co., of which 
he was the leading member. The firm, as is well known, 
is now merged in the Union Bank of Scotland. 

Sir William, as we learn from the memoir, was reared, 
and acquired strict habits of business, chiefly under the 
eye of John Coutts ; for Thomas, his brother, the 
youngest son of the Lord Provost, removed to London. 
There, founding the banking concern of Coutts & Co., 
he died in 1S22, at about ninety years of age; his 


302 MEMOIR. 

youngest daughter Sophia, married to Sir Francis 
Burdctt, being mother of the much-esteemed Baroness >C 
Burdett Coutts. The memoir, which contains many 
curious particulars about banking in the olden time, was 
written by Sir William Forbes with a view to impress his 
son and successor with the paramount importance of 
exercising, with diligence in his profession, the highest 
principles of integrity, for only by such could he expect 
to sustain the enviable reputation of the house. The 
universal mourning on the death of Sir William Forbes, 
in 1806, shortly after he had completed his Life of 
Beattie, caused Sir Walter Scott to refer to him in one of 
the cantos of Marmion, when addressing the amiable 
banker's son-in-law, and the poet's friend, Mr Skene of 
Rubislaw : 

' Scarce had the lamented Forbes paid 
The tribute to his minstrel's shade, 
The tale of friendship scarce was told, 
Ere the narrator's heart was cold. 
Far may we search before we find 
A heart so manly and so kind.' 

In editing the autobiography of this distinguished 
banker, my brother enjoyed a pleasure instead of per- 
forming a task. The same might be said of a series of 
detached papers, written at spare intervals, or to deliver 
as lectures. The subjects of these tracts, ultimately 
issued in 186 1 under the title of Edinburgh Papers, 
were various — old domestic architecture, merchants and 
merchandise in old times, the posture of the scientific 
world, some notions on geology, and the romantic 
Scottish ballads. By this last-named paper, the accepted 
opinions regarding several popular ballads, as given by 
Percy and Scott, were considerably ruffled. In it he 


ventured to shew that, so far from being ancient, these 
ballads had been written, in an affectedly old style, not 
earlier than the beginning of the eighteenth centurj' — 
the surreptitious manufacture being executed by a 
woman clever at versification, Lady Wardlaw of Pitreavie. 
Professor Aytoun, amongst others, was, of course, not 
well pleased at this unhappy overturn of certain literary 
traditions, but could not disprove the accuracy of the 
view that had been adopted. There was at the time 
considerable discussion on the subject. 

My brother and I had talked of visiting the United 
States and Canada, We had pretty extensive business 
relations in these countries ; but what chiefly interested 
us was the social aspect of affairs beyond the Atlantic. 
I was able to make this desired trip in 1853, the 
account of which appeared as Things as They are in 
America (1854). Robert's excursion was postponed for 
a few years longer. 

When the old Theatre Royal in Edinburgh was about 
to be taken down in 1859, in order to make way for the 
new General Post-office, he, at the request of some 
amateurs of the drama, wrote a historical sketch of the 
old building, with its successive managers, and the great 
theatrical stars who had made their appearance on its 
stage. The pamphlet was a trifle, but not devoid of 
some amusing particulars ; for example, the account 
given of the visit of Mrs Siddons, in May 1784, when 
she performed twelve nights, extending over a period 
of three weeks, and during which she played her prin- 
cipal characters, including Mrs Beverley, Jane Shore, 
Isabella, Lady Randolph, and Euphrasia in the Grecian 
Dauiihter : 

304 MEMOIR. 


'The furor created in the town by the performances of 
this illustrious lady was extraordinary. Prodigious crowds 
attended hours before the performance for the chance of a 
place. It came to be necessary to admit them at three, and 
then people began to attend at twelve to get in at three. 
The General Assembly of the church, in session at the time, 
found it necessary to arrange their meetings with some 
reference to the hours at the theatre, for the younger 
members had discovered that attendance on Mrs Siddons's 
performances was calculated to be of some advantage to 
them, as a means of improving their elocution. People 
came from distant places, even from Newcastle, to witness 
what all spoke of with wonder. There were one day appli- 
cations for 2557 places, while there were only 630 of that 
kind in the house. Porters and servants had to bivouac for 
a night in the streets, on mats and palliasses, in order that 
they might get an early chance of admission to the box- 
office next day. At the more thrilling parts of the perfor- 
mance, the audience were agitated to a degree unprecedented 
in this cool latitude. Many ladies fainted. This was par- 
ticularly the case on the evening when Isabella^ or the Fatal 
Marriage, v/as performed. The personator of Isabella has 
to exhibit the distress of a wife, on finding, after a second 
marriage, that her first and loved husband, Biron, is still 
alive. Mrs Siddons herself was left at the close in such an 
exhausted state, that some minutes elapsed before she could 
be carried off the stage. A young heiress, Miss Gordon of 
Gight, in Aberdeenshire, was carried out of her box in 
hysterics, screaming loudly the words caught from the great 
actress : " Oh, my Biron ! my Biron ! " A strange tale was 
therewith connected. A gentleman, whom she had not at 
this time seen or heard of, the Honourable John Biron, next 
year met, paid his addresses, and married her. It was to 
her a fatal marriage in several respects, although it gave to 
the world the poet Lord Byron. Strange to say, a lady 


lived till January 1858, the Dowager Lady G , who was 

in the house that evening, and who never could forget the 
ominous sounds of "Oh, my Biron!" The writer of this 
little memoir has heard the story related by another lady 
who was also in the house that night, and who died in 1855. 
By her performances in Edinburgh on this occasion, Mrs 
Siddons cleared nearly £1000, her benefit alone yielding 
£350 ; all this being over and above the profits of a night 
given to the Charity-Workhouse.' 

Robert, accompanied by his \vife, effected his long- 
desired visit to the United States in i860, everywhere 
receiving much attention from men of literary and scien- 
tific tastes. Unfortunately, his dear old friend and 
correspondent, Willie Wilson, had died shortly before 
his arrival in the country. Of his extensive excursion my 
brother did not give any regular account, but contented 
himself with writing two or three articles in Chambers's 

We now approach the end. On my brother's return 
from America, there were consultations on the project 
of a work, likely to be successful, but which could not 
be executed in Edinburgh. It required the resources of 
the British Museum. For this purpose it was resolved 
that he should migrate, with his family, to London, if 
his stay should be only for a few years. So to London 
he and his family went, their residence being Verulam 
House, one of the pleasant villas at St John's Wood. 
The work which had suggested this wrench in accus- 
tomed habits was the Book of Days, a miscellany of 
popular antiquities in connection with the calendar, 
including anecdotes, biographies, curiosities of literature, 
and oddities of human life and character. 

3o6 MEMOIR. 

From the time he began to reside in London, March 
1 86 1, he was much occupied with this undertaking, 
and became a frequent visitor of the British Museum, 
as well as of the Athenasum, of which club he had the 
good fortune to be elected a member. Although he 
possessed an excellent private collection of books, it 
was nothing in comparison to the very comprehensive 
library of the Athenaeum, which accordingly formed a 
great attraction, independently of the very choice 
company to be met with. Verulam House was a resi- 
dence excelling in amenities any which he and his 
family had yet occupied. Regarding his life here for 
the next two years, his daughter Anne, now Mrs Dowie 
(who most closely resembles him of all his family), has 
furnished me with the following particulars : 

'My dear father wrote to me shortly after taking 
possession of Verulam, which he described as com- 
prehending "a large garden, lawn, hot-houses, and 
in short the whole paraphernalia of a gentleman's 
country-house, with a fine conservatory, adjoining the 
drawing-room, and containing a fountain surrounded 
with flowers." Besides plenty of space for the beloved 
books, and spare rooms for guests, there was no end 
of scope for the romping of grandchildren. On the 
lawn, adjoining a rustic summer-house, there were some 
fine trees, one of them a splendid spreading oak, beneath 
which my mother often took breakfast, at which she 
usually held a levee of cats. Her fondness for these 
animals was extraordinary, and she always maintained 
that they were a misunderstood and ill-used people. Her 
more special favourites were two beautiful white cats, 
known as Mr and Mrs Archie, and one of their kittens 


was generally perched on her shoulder, when seated 
under the trees. 

'During the ^vinter of 1861-2, my father spent a 
large part of his time at the Athenreum, perusing the 
proof sheets not only of the Book of Days, but of the 
History of the Indian Mutiny, which the firm was pub- 
lishing, and for this latter work he felt it to be strange 
and interesting to have the advantage of consulting the 
general who had held the chief command during that 
terrible Indian convulsion — namely, Lord Clyde, with 
whom he became acquainted at the club. In 1862, he 
was somewhat surprised to find himself appointed a 
judge in one of the sections of the International 
Exhibition, a circumstance which brought him in con- 
tact with the commissioners, and led to some pleasant 
soire'es at the South Kensington Museum. About the 
same period he, in company with his daughter Janet, 
attended the meetings and lectures of the Royal Insti- 
tution, and had much pleasant intercourse with such 
friends as Dr Carpenter, Dr W. B. Hodgson, Mr Watts 
of the British Museum, Professors Huxley, Tyndall, and 
H. D. Rogers, also Sir Charles Nicholson, late of Sydney, 
a person whose society always afforded him the highest 
pleasure. With Sir Charles, he made a trip to France 
and Belgium, chiefly with the view of visiting the quarry 
near Amiens, noted for its deposit of flint axes. 

*In January 1863, he wrote to me, that he had just 
returned from Scotland, where he had enjoyed a lively 
fortnight among a circle of old acquaintances. Scarcely 
was he well settled at Verulam, when he was invited to 
St Andrews to receive the degree of LL.D. from the 
university, an honour which came upon him entirely 
unsolicited. Returning again to London, he endeav- 

3o8 MEMOIR. 

oured to make up for lost time by excessive labour at 
the Book of Days, wliich, wherever lie was, kept him 
pretty much on the rack. Accordingly, work, work, 
work still went on to a degree which it is most painful 
to recollect. Some assistance, on which he confidently 
reckoned, having grievously failed, and the press 
being urgent, there was no escape from the labour 
which he had undertaken. For a breathing space, 
he took refuge with me at Moffat in June 1863. 
Here he enjoyed the bracing air and pastoral scenery, 
yet not greatly advancing in health. We made little 
excursions together up the valleys in the neighbourhood. 
One day, we went as far as the cataract known as 
the Gray Mare's Tail, pausing for an hour or two at 
Jenny Broadfoot's, at Braehead, in whose tiny parlour, 
containing a box-bed, he was much affected, when telling 
me that he had spent a night here forty years ago, 
when travelling on foot to collect materials for the 
Picture of Scotland. " Here," said he, " in the midst 
of these grand old hills, noted in our national annals, 
and embalmed in immortal verse, I again take my coun- 
trymen to my heart, and wonder if I shall be able to live 
any more as an exile in the south." Necessity, however, 
drew him back to St John's Wood, where, at length, nis 
herculean literary task came to a conclusion.' 

The mental strain which my brother underwent with 
what his daughter properly calls a 'herculean literary 
task,' was more than he was able to bear. The work 
was finished, but the author was finished also. Not that 
he died on the spot, but his system was shattered, and 
he could not in future incur any continuous exertion. 
To aggravate his disorder, he experienced some sad 


domestic bereavements. In September 1863, he lost 
his wife, and almost immediately thereafter Janet, an 
amiable daughter of great intellect and beauty. Like 
most other works he produced, the Book of Days proved 
a success. But at what a cost ? He was heard to say : 
* That book was my death-blow,' and such it really was. 
With all its attractions, Verulam House could not 
retain my brother in London. He longed to be in 
the midst of scenes connected with old associations. 
Returning to Scotland in an enfeebled state of health, 
he took up his residence in St Andrews, a place to 
which he had twenty years previously become much 
attached, on account of its agreeable society, its bracing 
atmosphere, and its extensive links, noted for the 
game of golf, a healthful outdoor amusement, not 
demanding too great an amount of physical exertion. 
There we may leave him for a little space, in the 
society of his youngest daughter — his windows over- 
looking the Firth of Tay, and the celebrated Bell-rock 
Light-house Hashing far in the east, like a lustrous gem 
on the bosom of the German Ocean. 



'HPHERE is a skeleton in every house ! All' have 
-*- something or other to trouble them, however 
well off and at ease they may appear to be. For twenty- 
one years after the commencement of Chambers^s 
Journal, and while all seemed to be going on prosper- 
ously, my brother and I were plagued with a skeleton, 
of whom the world had no means of being cognisant 
The nature of the skeleton was this. Operating from 
Edinburgh as a centre, we had necessarily to entrust 
a large commission business to a bookseller in London, 
who had us pretty much at his mercy. Things might 
be going right or wrong with him, for anything we could 
satisfactorily discover. At first, there was no cause 
for uneasiness ; but in the progress of events, when a 
small grew into a great concern, we could not divest 
ourselves of apprehensions of a catastrophe. 

Such was our skeleton ! Perhaps we were no worse 
off than our neighbours, but that is always a poor 
consolation. We might possibly have rid ourselves of 
the skeleton. That, however, would perhaps only have 
amounted to a substitution of a new for an old source of 
distrust So we were fain to temporise, and to make 


the best of things as they stood. In a social point of 
view, we were on excellent terms with the personality of 
our skeleton, and there was not a little pleasant inter- 
course among us. I was often for weeks in London ; 
and by these visits an acquaintanceship was kept up 
with various esteemed contributors, among whom we 
had great pleasure in numbering Mrs S. C. Hall, who 
wrote for us some admirable stories of Irish life, and 
through whom we procured a juvenile story from the 
venerable Maria Edgeworth. 

On one of these occasions of visiting the metropolis, 
a new and unexpected acquaintance was formed. It 
was in 1844, when residing in Greek Street, Soho. 
One day about noon, a carriage drives up to the door — 
not a vehicle of the light modern sort, but an old family 
coach, drawn by a pair of sleek horses. From it 
descends an aged gentleman, who, from his shovel 
hat and black gaiters, is seen to be an ecclesiastical 
dignitary. I overhear, by the voices at the door, that 
I am asked for. * Who, in all the world, can this be ? ' 
A few minutes solve the question. Heavy footsteps 
are heard deliberately ascending the antique balus- 
traded stair. My unknown visitor is ushered in — his 
name announced : ' The Rev. Sydney Smith.' I hasten 
to receive so celebrated a personage as is befitting, and 
express the pleasure I have in the unexpected visit — 
wondering how he had discovered me. 

* I heard at Rogers's you were in town,' said he, 
' and was resolved to call. Let us sit down, and have 
a talk.' 

We drew towards the fire, for the day was cold, and 
he continued : ' You are surprised possibly at my visit 
There is nothing at all stranjie about it. The originator 

312 MEMOIR. 

of tlie Edinburgh Review has come to see the originator 
of the Edinburgh Journal.^ 

I felt honoured by the remark, and deHghted beyond 
measure witla the good-natured and unceremonious 
observations which my visitor made on a variety of 
subjects. We talked of Edinburgh, and I asked him 
where he had lived. He said it was in Buccleuch 
Place, not far from Jeffrey, with an outlook behind to 
the Meadows. ' Ah,' he remarked, ' what charming 
walks I had about Arthur's Seat, with the clear mountain 
air blowing in one's face ! I often think of that glorious 
scene.' I alluded to the cluster of young men — Jeffrey, 
Horner, Brougham, himself, and one or two others, who 
had been concerned in commencing the Review in 1802. 
Of these, he spoke with most affection of Horner, and 
specified one who, from his vanity and eccentricities, 
could not be trusted. Great secrecy, he said, had to be 
employed in conducting the undertaking, and this agrees 
with what Lord Jeffrey told my brother. My reverend 
and facetious visitor made some little inquiry about my 
own early efforts, and he laughed when I reminded him 
of a saying of his own about studying on a little oat- 
meal — for that would have applied literally to my 
brother and to myself. 'Ah, labora, iabora,' he said 
sententiously, ' how that word expresses the character 
of your country !' 

'Well, we do sometimes work pretty hard,' I observed; 
* but for all that, we can relish a pleasantry as much as 
our neighbours. You must have seen that the Scotch 
have a considerable fund of humour.' 

' Oh, by all means,' replied my visitor, ' you are an 
immensely funny people, but you need a little operating 
upon to let the fun out. I know no instrument so 


effectual for the purpose as the cork-screw ! ' Mutual 
laughter, of course. 

There was some more chat of this kind, and we parted. 
This interview led to a few days of agreeable intercourse 
with Sydney Smith. By invitation, I went next morning 
to his house in Green Street, Grosvenor Square, to 
breakfast ; and the day following, went with him to 
breakfast with a select party, at the mansion of Samuel 
Rogers, St James's, when there ensued a stream of 
witticisms and repartees for pretty nearly a couple of 
hours. This was assuredly the most pleasant conversa- 
tional treat I ever experienced. On quitting London, 
I bade good-bye to Sydney Smith with extreme regret. 
We never met again. He died in February the following 

Years pass on ; in each, excursions being made with 
some Hterary object in view. While residing in London 
in 1847, I was honoured \vith the acquaintance of Miss 
Mitford, whom I visited by invitation at her neat little 
cottage, Three-mile Cross, near Reading; the pleasantest 
thing about the visit being a walk with the aged lady 
among the green lanes in the neighbourhood — she 
trotting along with a tall cane, and speaking of rural 
scenes and circumstances. I see by the lately published 
life of Boner, that in a letter to him, under date 
December 16, 1847, she refers to this visit, stating that 
she was at the time engaged along with Mr Lovejoy, a 
l:)Ooksellcr in Reading, in a plan for establishing lending 
libraries for the poor, in which, she says, I assisted her 
with information and advice. What I really advised 
was that, following out a scheme adopted in East 
Lothian, parishes should join in establishing itinerating 
libraries, each composed of different books, so that, 

314 MEMOIR. 

being shifted from place to place, a degree of novelty 
might be maintained for mutual advantage. 

In 1848, I visited Germany, mainly to look into 
educational and penal arrangements ; and at Berlin, 
through the polite attention of Professor Zumpt, had the 
satisfaction of becoming acquainted with the Prussian 
compulsory system of education, which, in its later 
developments, has had so startling an effect on the 
affairs of continental Europe. 

I had visited France several times : To see the extinct 
volcanoes of Auvergne, and the Roman remains of 
Provence — to see the prison discipline at Roquette 
and Fontrevault, and the juvenile reformatory at ISIettray 
— to see Voisin's method of rousing the dormant intellect 
of imbecile children at the Bicetre, and so on. I 
again visited the country in 1849 j o^ this occasion 
remaining longer than usual in Paris, and seeing 
more of the social life of the people. For this, let 
me acknowledge myself indebted to the Dowager 
Countess of Elgin (a Scottish lady of the Oswalds of 
Dunnikier), who found me out in the Boulevard des 
Italiens, and introduced me along with my wife to 
an agreeable literary circle, including M. Lamartine, 
M. Mohl, and Leon Faucher. Lamartine — tall, thin, 
and unimpassioned — the centre of a group of admirers, 
listened with cold complace-ncy when I told him that a 
translation of his Voyage en Orient had been eminently 
popular in England. Faucher was greatly more con- 
versible. He was interested in hearing about our system 
of poor-laws, municipal government, and other topics 
connected with social economy, on which I did my best 
to give him some information. 

On one of these evenings, I was introduced to a 


young Frenchman, son of a noted revolutionist during 
the Reign of Terror, who had aftenvards saved his life 
by hiding himself, and changing his name, until he 
could again appear publicly. He had recently died, and 
his whole effects were about to be sold, in order that 
the produce might be equally divided among his family. 
The articles were said to be curious ; and such I found 
to be the case, on going by invitation to see them in 
an old dignified mansion, near the Temple — the most 
curious thing of all being the identical proclamation 
which Robespierre had begun to write at the Hotel de 
Ville, when his assailants burst in upon him, and he 
was shot through the jaw. He had got only the length 
of scrawling the words, * Courage, mes compatriotes^ when, 
being stnick, the pen fell from his hand, and big drops 
of blood were scattered over the paper. Bearing these 
marks of discoloration, how strange a memorial of the 
horrors of 1794 ! 

I was much delighted with the simplicity and inexpen- 
siveness of the evening parties at the house of the 
countess, which was situated in the neighbourhood 
of the Rue de Bac, and had been a palace of some 
pretension in the days of the old monarchy. People 
came to see and converse with each other — not cere- 
moniously to eat and drink, and go away in a state of 
discomfort. The few weeks I spent in Paris on this 
occasion were among the most delightful in my whole 

While residing at Glenormiston, in Peeblesshire, in 
the summer of 1850, I was favoured with a visit from 
the aged Sir Adam Ferguson, the early friend of Sir 
Walter Scott, and who is often referred to by LockharL 
Sir Adam was a son of Professor Ferguson, author of 

31 6 MEMOIR. 

the History of the Roman Republic, who had lived at 
Hallyards, in the parish of Manor, Peeblesshire, at the 
end of the last and beginning of the present century. 
From his acquaintance with the Fergusons, Scott, when 
travelling to Carlisle in 1797, paid a passing visit to 
Hallyards, when he and young Adam had an interview 
with David Ritchie, whose misshapen figure and misan- 
thropic character suggested the fictitious Black Dwarf, 

After these days of youth and hope, Adam Ferguson 
had an active and hazardous career. He entered the 
army, in which he rose to the rank of captain. In the 
war in the Peninsula, he suffered a severe wound in the 
knee, by a musket-bullet, and was taken prisoner. To 
relieve the tedium of his captivity, he petitioned Fouche 
to be permitted to visit Paris, and this unusual favour 
was granted in consideration of his father's fame, but 
still more for that of his uncle, the illustrious Black, 
whose discoveries in chemistry were highly appreciated 
in France. Wliile in Paris, Captain Ferguson had the 
satisfaction of seeing Bonaparte. At the peace, he 
returned to Scotland, and renewed his intimacy with 
Scott. This friendship was warm and confidential, for 
in his old acquaintance, the ' Great Unknown ' reposed 
the secret of his authorship of Waverley ; and, indeed, 
Captain Ferguson spent much of his time at Abbotsford, 
and sat for hours with Sir Walter, while he was penning 
his deathless fictions. A few years previous to his 
visit to me in the country, he had received the honour 
of knighthood. 

Sir Adam was an intimate acquaintance of my brother, 
at whose house I frequently met him. Notwithstanding 
his extreme age, he possessed great buoyancy of spirit, 
told amusing anecdotes, and was an entliusiastic admirer 


of the Scottish melodies. On one occasion, when 
sitting in a state of entrancement listening to some music 
played by Mrs R. Chambers, one of her daughters (Mary) 
made a clever sketch of him in crayons. He had long 
entertained a wish to visit Peeblesshire for the last time, 
and now, in his eighty-first year, the wish was realised. 
Accompanied by my brother and a gentleman of the 
neighbourhood, I drove him to Hallyards to see his 
former haunts. Every step in the excursion awakened 
old and slumbering recollections. He declared, however, 
that he with difficulty recognised some of the ancient 
landmarks. The sight of the old avenue at Hallyards 
affected him considerably. He said he was afraid his 
feelings would not allow him to enter the house; but the 
spirit of the old soldier rallied, and with all his wonted 
humour, he related various incidents illustrative of past 
events. He essayed to mount to a room which he had 
occupied when a youth, but the narrowness of the stair- 
case, and the infirmity of the unfortunate knee, pre- 
sented insuperable obstacles to the ascent. On leaving 
the grounds, we drove to the Black Dwarfs cottage, the 
scene of the interview with Scott. A shock awaited the 
veteran. By an unfortunate exercise of bad taste, the 
lowly thatched structure had been transformed into a 
slated house — a circumstance for which we all heartily 
expressed our regret. Next day 1 parted with Sir Adam. 
Afterwards, I saw him several times in l^dinburgh. He 
died at the close of 1854. 

How my brother and I, as fancy directed, should have 
had leisure to spend months in rambling up and down 
the world, is worth a little explanation. In one of 
Robert's essays, he moralises on the advantxige of 
blending with professional pursuits that amount of 


3i8 MEMOIR. 

leisure which will enable us to cultivate the higher class 
of feelings ; for, by neglect on this score, life in the 
long-run will only be looked back upon as a disappoint- 
ing dream. On principles of this kind, we endeavoured 
to act, but could have obtained no success in the 
attempt, by following the too common practice of hurry- 
ing into one project after another, irrespective of conse- 
quences. At the outset, we laid down three rules, 
which were inflexibly maintained : Never to take credit, 
but pay for all the great elements of trade in ready 
money ; never to give a bill, and never discount one ; 
and never to undertake any enterprise for which means 
were not prepared. Obviously, by no other plan of 
operations could we have been freed from anxiety, and 
at liberty to make use of the leisure at our disposal. 

No anxiety ? — yes, there was some. We had still the 
skeleton, which had so grown and grown in dimensions 
as to be at length truly formidable. About 1852, matters 
became critical. It was as clear as could be, that we 
were to incur a heavy loss. In nothing in his whole 
life did my brother manifest more vigour of character 
than in determining to get rid, at all hazards, of this 
source of disquietude. He thought of Scott and the 
Ballantynes, and how, by an extreme and misplaced 
confidence, arising from kindness of heart, a man may 
be irretrievably ruined. Without further periphrasis : 
taking all risks, we withdrew our agency in 1853, and 
established a branch business in London under charge 
of our youngest brother, David, on whose fidelity we 
thought we might rely. 

Now comes a startling and melancholy fact, from 
which it would not be difficult to draw a moral. The 
concern that had for twenty-one years possessed our 


agency, had reaped a profit from it of not less than 
forty thousand pounds — a sum equal to about eight times 
what Gibbon received for his Decline and Fall of the 
Roman Empire, and eighty times what poor Robert 
Burns ever received for all his world-famed writings ! 
All was gone, and a vast deal more — vanished into 
empty space. A fortune such as few arc born to had 
been absolutely thrown away. 

The whole of this affair, with some collateral circum- 
stances, reviewed over a course of years, furnished an 
interesting and not uninstructive commercial study. In 
London, as any one may observe, there are tvvo pre- 
vailing methods of ruination : Extravagance in living, 
and trading beyond means — substituting sanguine 
expectations, along with borrowed money, for capital. 
Such, no doubt, are errors everywhere, but in the 
metropolis they revel without restraint, almost without 
rebuke. And from the glimpses obtained, I regret to 
say, they are not unknown in certain sections of the 
publishing profession. In whatever department of trade, 
so frightful is the hurry, that means are not suffered to 
accumulate in order to allow of ready-money payments. 
The whole transactions subside into a system of bills 
. — bills to wholesale stationers, bills to printers, bills to 
artists, bills to writers, bills to everybody. In the same 
wild way, bills that are received are hurried off for dis- 
count. There is great seeming prosperity, but so is 
there too frequently a great bill-book — dismal record of 
difficulties and heart-aches. The chief difficulty is how 
to effect discounts. Hours are perhaps spent daily in 
the effort. Commercially, there is a struggle between 
life and death every four-and-twenty hours. Who would 
covet existence on such terms ? 

320 MEMOIR. 

The banks, somehow, fail to monopohse the discount 
trade. They are rivalled by private capitalists, who, in 
ordinary slang, are known as ' parties.' There is always 
a ' party ' — some mysterious being who lives at Bath, or 
Boulogne, or somewhere — to whom, through a ' party ' 
more immediately visible, succour is looked for in 
emergencies. The 'party' dealt with is sometimes a 
mighty pleasant and presentable person — ^joUy, good- 
natured countenance ; punctilious in dress ; abounding 
in anecdotes about the drama and the 'Derby;' well 
read; and avowing a high opinion of Campbell as a 
poet, can give with proper effect quotations from the 
Pleasures of Hope. Meeting him at a ceremonious 
family dinner, you would never, from his appearance and 
high-souled chivalric ideas, take him for a ' party,' 
but half the guests know that he possesses that imposing 
character in relation to the unfortunate host, whom 
he could any day crumple up at pleasure, and only bides 
his time to do so. When Junius made the famous 
remark, that ' party is the madness of many for the gain 
of a few,' he spoke the truth in more ways than one. 

Usually, in one way or other, the money-lending 
* party ' becomes the final beneficiary. Should the 
advances be made to some unhappy publishing concern, 
copyrights are assigned in security, and seldom do they 
return to their original owner. Valuable literary pro- 
perty, the fruit of ingenious conception and enterprise, 
is thus constantly undergoing a process of transfer and 
confiscation. We may feel shocked with the tyranny of 
capital, but the blame is due to the extravagant credit 
system, along with an insane overhaste to be rich ; 
along, also — for we must not forget that — with an 
insane extravagance in living, which yields comfort to 


neither body nor mind ; this, however, is a circumstance 
so very commonplace as to engage little or no attention. 
It will be remembered how James King, our early 
friend and fellow-labourer in scientific experiments, had 
emigrated to Australia, in order to follow out an indus- 
trial career. From one thing to another, he became 
proprietor of vineyards at Irawang, New South Wales, 
and there devoted himself to the perfection of the 
wine-manufacture in the colony. In this pursuit, he 
was, by his chemical knowledge, perseverance, and 
enterprise, eminently successful ; but what avails pro- 
fessional eminence with loss of health? Returning to 
England, he travelled over the continent, and estab- 
lished a friendship with Baron Liebig, who furnished 
suggestions for improving the quality of his wines. 
Hints of this kind he did not live to profit by. I found 
him in London, a wreck — sad contrast to what he had 
been when departing, as a high-spirited youth, to push 
his fortune abroad. A renewal of intercourse was 
scarcely practicable, for he heard and spoke only with 
difficulty. He died in London in 1857, leaving a 
widow and son to conduct his affairs in the colony. 

Amidst literary and other avocations, my brother and I 
never forgot Peebles. We visited the place — notably so in 
1 84 1 , to be complimented with the ' Freedom of the Burgh j' 
and tried to keep up an acquaintance with old friends, 
ever diminishing in number till scarcely one of them was 
left. After residing several summers in the neighbourhood, 
being forcibly reminded of the benefits which my brother 
and I had derived from Elder's library — long since extinct 
— I gifted to the town a suite of buildings consisting 
of a library of ten thousand volumes, reading-room, 
museum, gallery of art, and lecture-hall, with the view 

322 MEMOIR. 

of promoting the mental improvement of the humbler 
classes; but whether the institution so organised will 
have any such effect, seems, after an experience of twelve 
years, exceedingly doubtful. So slight has been the 
success, that others may well pause before venturing on 
a similar experiment. 

An incident in strange contrast to some events re- 
corded in the early part of these reminiscences, and 
which occurred very unexpectedly without any wish on 
my part, was my election to the office of Lord Provost 
of Edinburgh in 1865. Through a second election in 
1868, I occupied the office altogether for four years ; it 
was voluntarily resigned by me in 1869. Regarding 
this period of public service, which formed an inter- 
esting episode in a usually quiet life, the circumstance 
on which I have most reason to reflect with satisfaction, 
is that of having projected and obtained an act of parlia- 
ment for effecting a much wanted sanitary and general 
improvement of the older part of the city. Another 
incident, never for a moment anticipated, was the 
offer by the University of Edinburgh of conferring on 
me the honorary degree of LL.D., which was bestowed 
in a way too complimentary to be declined, or readily 
forgotten, in 1872, 

While giving some attention to Chambers^ s Journal, 
now in its forty-seventh year, it may be permitted me 
to mention that I was able to add a few books to 
the list already noted : The Youth's Companion and 
Counsellor, i860; Something 0/ Italy, 1862; Ifistory of 
Peeblesshire, i?>64t; IViiitering in Mentone, 1870; France: 
its History and Revolutions, 1871; Chambers s Social 
Science Tracts, designed to disseminate useful informa- 
tion among the working-classes on subjects connected 


with Social, Political, and Sanitary Economy; the 
present Memoir, 1872, and Ailie Giiroy, a Scottish 
story, which appeared shortly afterwards. Some books 
printed for private circulation do not require to be 

It is not for me to say a single word regarding the 
influence which Chambers's Journal and other publi- 
cations, edited by my brother and myself, may have 
exerted in the cause of popular enlightenment during 
the past forty years. Of that the public must be the 
judge. Neither — though such might not be uninterest- 
ing in some points of view — do 1 purpose to offer any 
details regarding the magnitude of the circulation of 
the various works in which our names have been and 
still remain mutually associated. What, however, I am 
bound above all things to do, is to express the sense 
of obligation felt by my brother during his declining 
years, and not less vividly entertained by myself, for 
those gratifying demonstrations of good feeling show- 
ered from all quarters in acknowledgment of ' labours,' 
which should more correctly be defined as ' pleasures,' 
extending over the greater part of a lifetime. In laying 
down the pen, what satisfaction can be greater than 
that of having been a pioneer in that chea]) literature 
movement, which, under a variety of conditions and 
auspices, has proved one of the conspicuous engines of 
social improvement in the nineteenth century. 



/^~^HANGE of air and scene is said to work wonders 
^^ on the overtasked brain. It did so to a certain 
extent on Robert. The fresh air and tranquillity of St 
Andrews, with some moderate exercise at golf, had a 
beneficial effect on his health. He wished for peace, 
and here it was, enlivened with converse in the society 
of old friends. He had built for himself a house, with a 
spacious saloon-library, entering from which was a small 
apartment fitted up as a study. Environed by his 
books — a very choice collection — he was now enjoying 
a luxurious and 'learned leisure.' All task-work was 
at an end. Sometimes he came for a few days to 
Edinburgh ; and, extending his journey, he occasionally 
visited one or other of his married daughters. At 
the new-year, as long as he was able, he made an 
agreeable excursion across the Tay to Fingask 
Castle, in the Carse of Gowrie, to pass a day or 
two according to old fashions with his friends, the 

No house, to look at, could be more pleasant than 
that which he had constructed according to his fancy at 


St Andrews. In it he constantly received company, 
and was always the same kindly and entertaining host. 
But apart from these receptions, his establishment was 
cheerless, contrasted with former days, when his home 
was enlivened by a troop of merry-hearted girls. Pos- 
sibly it was from a sense of comparative solitude, that 
he formed a second matrimonial alliance. He married 
(January 1867) the widow of Robert Frith, a lady of 
musical accomplishments, and of that liveliness of 
disposition which was calculated to soothe his declining 

The university of St Andrews having conferred on 
him the honorary degree of LL.D., he was subsequently 
known as the ' Doctor.' After his second marriage, the 
doctor's dinner and evening parties had something in 
them of the smack of old times, though all could see 
he was gradually declining in health ; he never failed, 
however, in his accustomed cheerfulness, his love of 
music, and his anecdotic, but slowly uttered remarks. 

The pen was now taken up only as an amusement ; 
but such was the pleasure he derived from writing, that 
he felt as if the abandonment of literary exercise would 
kill him outright. Little by little, he finished a book 
that he had long been employed upon. It was the Life 
of Smollett, interspersed with characteristic specimens 
of his writings. This was a slight work, in one volume, 
but which had the recommendation of adding some- 
thing to the personal history of Smollett and his family, 
and presenting a curious fragmentary memoir, written 
by the novelist's grandfather, Sir James Smollett, a stern 
old Whig Presbyterian, knighted by William HI. This 
was the last of my brother's printed productions, and 
with it his literary career closes. 

326 MEMOIR. 

Those who were unacquainted with his private habits 
of thought may be surprised to know that, in his latter 
days, he wrote a number of prayers, and graces to be 
said at meals, all breathing the purest religious spirit. 
He began \ht Life and Freachings of Jesus Christ, from 
the Evangelists. It was a work apparently designed for 
the edification of youth, and was left unfinished. He 
likewise began a catechism for the young, which he did 
not live to complete. The reminiscences of his early 
life, from which some extracts have been given, were 
also among his latest compositions. The mass of papers 
which he accumulated, and left as literary remains, is 
indescribable in variety. A considerable number of 
these fragments refer to Scottish Songs and Ballads, 
for which, as already stated, he entertained a great 

One of the more bulky papers which he left is a 
species of inquiry into the so-called manifestations 
of spiritualism. Without pronouncing an opinion dog- 
matically, he considered the subject worthy of patient 
investigation. 'The phenomena of spirituaHsm,' he 
says, ' may be the confused elements of a new chapter 
of human nature, which will only require some careful 
investigation to form a respectable addition to our stock 
of knowledge. Such, I must confess, is the light in 
which it has presented itself to me, or rather the aspect 
which it promises to assume.' Acknowledging so much, 
perhaps he thought of a saying he had heard used by 
Sir Walter Scott, that 'if there be a vulgar credulity, 
there is also a vulgar incredulity.' In his anxiety for 
fair-play, he perhaps leant too much to the side of 

Among the papers amassed by my brother, some old 


and some new, we have the evidence of a mind that 
for half a century had never been free from some 
kind of hterary assiduity. His casual thoughts, things 
he heard spoken of, anecdotes, stories, fragments of 
family history — all sooner or later assumed shape in 
sentences and paragraphs. He never forgot anything. 
His memory, from a faculty of concentrativeness, was 
altogether remarkable. He could tell you any date 
in history; he remembered all the people of any note 
he had conversed with, and how they looked, and 
what they said, if it was at all worth remembering. 
Every place he had visited was fresh in his recollec- 

With a memory so stored, and of untiring industry, 
he was always writing down odds and ends, as if assem- 
bling materials for books, which years would have been 
required to execute. From desultory thoughts on a 
variety of secular subjects in prose and verse, my 
brother seems to have turned to those literary exercises 
of a religious nature already specified. The last of 
these productions appears to have been the catechism 
for the young, which, like some other compositions, 
was left unfinished. Though fragmentary, this tract 
affords a good insight into the writer's love of truth, 
his acute sense of duty, and regard for the rights of 
others. I can only quote a few sentences respecting 
duties in affairs of state. They bear the true ring of my 
brother's upright character. 

' In political procedure, truth, rectitude, forbearance, 
and respect for rights are as much required as in 
ordinary society. And as no man can neglect or violate 
the simplest laws which bind him to his neighbour, 
without creatine: some decree of suffering, which is liable 

328 l\rEMOTR. 

to react against himself, so it is certain that those in 
authority cannot use it recklessly or oppressively without 
producing an unhappiness which will turn round to 
their own annoyance, injury, or destruction. There is, 
in short, but one rule of duty in the world, and that is 
summed in " Love your Neighbour." .... The errors 
and delusions of mankind are unfortunately endless ; 
and they are to be deplored, not only as occupying 
much time and thought uselessly, but as obscuring our 
ideas as to what is of real importance for the fulfilment 
of the Divine purposes of our being.' 

The year 1S70 opened gloomily in that pleasant- 
looking house at St Andrews. After a short illness, 
and very unexpectedly, my brother's second wife 
died on the iSth January. Now was he again in a 
sense desolate. Yet, though afflicted with this fresh 
calamity, and broken down in health, he did not repine. 
His bereavements only tended the more to bring out 
his true character. In him were now seen united the 
piety of the Christian with the philosophy of an ancient 
sage. * I know,' he said, ' that my days are numbered. 
My time cannot be long. I feel the gradual but sure 
indication of approaching dissolution. But don't let us 
be dismal about it; that would be alike futile and sinful.' 
And so he spoke as one reconciled to his appointed 
destiny. Setting his affairs in order, he looked calmly 
on the advances of the destroyer. He had done his 
work, and we may be permitted to think that he had 
done it nobly. 

Pale and feeble, he crept about, took short drives, and 
received visitors as usual ; for bodily weakness did not 
in the least affect his spirits. With one of his married 
daughters, Mrs Dowie, who had come to visit him, he 


walked to the Cathedral Burial-ground, and pointed out 
the spot where he wished to be interred. It was the 
interior of the old church of St Regulus. ' There,' said 
he, ' I hope to have the honour of finding a resting- 
place ; I should certainly be in excellent company, for 
Mr Lyon, the historian of St Andrews, told me there 
is a surprising number of bishops interred here.' The 
desire to be buried in this place of historical note was 
what might have been looked for. The church of St 
Regulus is one of the most ancient ecclesiastical struc- 
tures in Scotland. It dates from the twelfth century, and, 
as seen by its tall square tower, is built in the Roman- 
esque style. When the cathedral, a more modern and 
ornamental structure, was laid in ruin by a mob at the 
Reformation, this adjacent antique church was so far 
spared, that till this day it remains all, except the roof, 
in a state of good preservation. Carefully secured as 
crown property, it cannot be called a part of the general 
cemetery; and interment within it requires the sanction of 
the chief commissioner of Her Majesty's Board of Works. 
Being recommended change of scene, my brother 
accomj)anied Mrs Dowie to her home at ^Vest Kirby, 
near Birkenhead ; and thereafter, in April, went with 
her, by way of Gloucester, to Torquay, where for a time 
he took up his abode. Here he felt a slight improve- 
ment of health, and was able not only to attend and 
fully enjoy an interesting lecture by Mr Pengelly on the 
discoveries in Kent's Cavern, but to visit the cave, and 
make remarks on the objects ot natural history that had 
recently been brought to light. Before returning home, 
he once more visited a daughter in London, and also 
his surviving sister, Mrs Wills, at Sherrards, in Hertford- 
shire, where he greatly enjoyed the beauty of a quiet 

330 MEMOIR. 

rural scene. Brightened up a little by these visits among 
relatives, he returned to Scotland, in the company of his 
youngest daughter, who describes the fervency of his 
emotion in crossing the Border and finding himself again 
in his native country. He got back to St Andrews in 

From this time, he did not leave home, where, to 
keep him company, he was visited, one after the other, 
by several of his daughters. I went to see him in 
August, and found him in a frail condition, though able 
to converse on literary and other topics. His most 
conspicuous ailment was want of appetite, along with a 
deadly paleness of countenance. So greatly was his 
system disorganised, that, on sitting down to table, he 
could not eat. Nothing that he was solicited to take 
did him any good, farther than keeping up the spark of 
life. Still, in a way, he joked and told stories, felt an 
interest in the stirring news concerning France, and 
continued to take delight in music. 

Towards the conclusion of autumn, a change for the 
worse took place, and his mind was visibly weakened. 
Then came winter in more than ordinary severity, with 
its deadly effects on the aged and invalid. Shortly after 
the beginning of 1871, he could no longer sit up, and 
for his accommodation, his study, adjoining the library, 
had been for some time fitted up as a bedroom. Here 
I found him in bed on the 27th January. He said he 
preferred to be in this apartment, for it was on a level 
with the sitting-rooms, whence he could hear something 
of the lively conversation of his daughters, and where 
they could conveniently see him. A piano was placed 
in the library for his solacement. 

Constantly attended by Dr Oswald Bell, and by great 


care in nursing, he got through the winter. His married 
daughters now left him, it being arranged they should 
come back in turn, when required. Day by day, he lost 
strength, and one of them, Mrs Dowie, returned. On 
her appearance, he said he was glad that she had come 
back to see the last of him. On Sunday, 12th March, 
he was able to listen to, and heartily appreciate his 
favourite prayers and psalms in the Morning Service — 
ejaculating from time to time : ' How true, how beautiful.' 

In a note to me, Mrs Dowie gives a simple and 
touching account of the closing scene : 

'On Wednesday the 15th, he described himself as 
"quite wordless," and just pressing our hands, returned 
our embraces with fervour. He begged for some music, 
and was much gratified on my playing to him Ma<:pher- 
soris Farewell, an air he greatly admired, and which in 
former years he used to play himself on the piano, with 
my accompaniment Next day, he seemed very torpid, 
and scarcely spoke to us, more than answering questions. 
Early in the following morning, life was fleeting away. 
His last faintly uttered words were : " Quite comfort- 
able — quite happy — nothing more!" And so, with us 
sitting in silent tears beside him, at about five o'clock 
on Friday morning, the 17 th March, he gently breathed 
his last' 

At this mournful juncture, I had gone to T.ondon 
on account of the illness of my youngest brother, 
David, whose health had for some time been in a 
critical condition, partly from distress at the death of 
his wife, but principally the result of tastes and habits 
which had wholly undermined his constitution. He was 
now in so very delicate a state, that intelligence of the 
death of Robert brought on a severe paroxysm, whicli 

332 MEMOIR. 

terminated in his decease on the 21st March. David 
possessed some estimable quahties, and was a general 
favourite, but his business career was disappointing. 
He was very much a repetition of my father — kind 
and genial, with an exquisite taste for music, sang the 
Scottish songs beautifully, and was ready on all occa- 
sions to help in charitable undertakings. Unfortu- 
nately for himself, he came upon the stage of existence 
after tlie family struggle was over, and never experi- 
enced any of those difficulties to which Robert and I 
were in our early days exposed, and which, as has been 
seen, helped to impart a knowledge of the world, and 
more particularly a knowledge of the value of steadily 
persevering industry and thrift. I will not dwell on 
the distressful fact of losing two brothers within the 
short space of four days, and of having thereby to 
undertake responsibilities demitted by their decease. 
Of the last distressing scene at the death of poor 
David, I was not a witness, for I had been called to St 
Andrews to assist at the funeral of my brother Robert. 

This solemnity took place on the 2 2d ; and to meet 
the wishes of many who expressed a wish to be present, 
the arrangements were more of a public character than 
had at first been intended. Service was performed over 
the body in the Episcopal chapel, by the incumbent, 
the Rev. L. Tuttiett ; after which the procession of 
friends and relatives proceeded to the church of St 
Regulus, in the Cathedral Burying-ground, for interment 
in which permission had been obligingly granted. On 
approaching the cemetery, the funeral procession was 
met by the provost and magistrates of St Andrews, also 
by members of the Senatus Academicus, with their 
official insignia. Surrounded by a large and sympathis- 


ing crowd, and with the last offices of tlie church, the 
body of Robert Chambers was lowered into the grave, 
where it reposes amidst the dust of ecclesiastics 
whose names are now only known by the records of 

In his sermon on Sunday 26th, the Rev. Mr Tuttiett 
made the following remarks on the deceased : 

*A little more than a year ago, when first I came to 
minister in this church, there sat; before me one to whom 
I could not but turn with especial interest at that time. He 
was, I knew, a man dear to many of his fellow-worshippers, 
dear to the place in which he lived, dear to his country, and 
to many far away. He was a man of high endowments, 
great and varied knowledge, deep philosophy, sound judg- 
ment, and refined taste. He was also — what is far better 
than all this — a man of upright and unostentatiously religious 
life — noble and kind in his nature, gentle and modest in his 
manner, genial and warm in his sympathies, faithful in his 
friendships, and generous in his dealings. He had come 
from his recently bereaved home to seek comfort in the 
common prayers of the Christian Brotherhood with whom 
he delighted to worship. The text of the sermon he heard 
on that occasion was taken from Saint Paul's address in the 
synagogue of Antioch : " David, after he had served his 
own generation, by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was 
laid to his fathers." Those words seem to have struck his 
mind most forcibly. I shall not forget with what earnest- 
ness and solemnity he afterwards commented upon them. 
They suggested, he thought, " a sublime ideal of human life, 
and a comfortable view of decease." Certainly, he seems 
to have kept such an ideal before him. He " sen-ed his 
own generation " in the way God marked out for him faith- 
fully and well. Let me only remind you how much he has 
done, in conjunction with the brother who now survives 
him, for the dissemination of that pure, wholesome literature, 
which, though not coming under the special denomination 

334 MEMOIR. 

of religious, has very greatly served the cause of religion, 
by humanising and elevating the mind, and thus preparing 
it for the direct teaching of divine truth. Those who, like 
myself, have been much interested in the work of popular 
education in England, must ever honour his name for this 
service to the generation in which he lived. But my object 
is not so much to speak his praises, as to gather out for 
myself and for you the instruction of his life and example. 
He was a great lover of nature, and a patient, nor by any 
means an unsuccessful, student of her works. And he was 
ever ready to encourage the investigations of every man 
whose heart was loyal to truth, even though the investi- 
gator might seem, in his better judgment, to be pro- 
ceeding upon a wrong principle. But, certainly, in his 
conversations with myself, he ever evinced the clearest 
recognition of a Personal God moving amidst His own 

creation, and ruling it constantly by His Word 

He seems to have had so great a reverence for the deep 
things of God, and so humbling a sense of his own inability 
to grapple with them, that he was ever most unwilling to 
converse about them. He was, I believe, a sincerely 
attached member of the Episcopal Church of Scotland. He 
venerated its old historic associations and traditions. He 
loved its sound and sober standards of faith and devotion. 
At the same time, he very highly esteemed the ministers of 
the National Establishment ; he did full justice to the good 
he knew in other communions ; and he never counted men 
offenders for difference of opinion. ... He seemed to be a 
man of vigorous, manly intellect, sparing no labour, no self- 
devotion, in the acquirement of whatever knowledge he 
thought it good, for himself and for his fellow-creatures, to 
possess ; and, at the same time, a man of pure, gentle, kind, 
and unselfish character, whom it was impossible to know 
and not to love.' 

Here terminates our Memoir. The principal subject 
of it had passed away in his sixty-ninth year, a victim, as 


it appeared to himself and his family, of that species 
of excessive literary labour which, by overtasking the 
nervous system, often proves so fatal. Of the esteem 
generally entertained for him in his private character, I 
do not propose to dilate. His genial and kindly dis- 
position, to say nothing of his acquirements, gave him 
many friends. Never had children a more loving 
father. In public affairs, he was not qualified to take a 
prominent part. At one time, as has been seen, he 
edited a newspaper in the old Conservative interest, but 
his politics were of a mild type; and latterly he was 
numbered among the friends of social progress within 
sound constitutional limits. On few things was he more 
resolute than in upholding the principles of free trade, 
the opposition to which, particularly as regards the free 
importation of com and other elements of food, he con- 
sidered to be not only a prodigious economic blunder, 
but a great national crime. His generosity in extending 
aid to the needy and deserving was a marked trait in 
his character ; and so was his frugality. Liberal in his 
dealings, munificent in his donations, he spent little 
on himself — did not indulge in costly amusements or 
luxuries. While freely giving a cheque for a large 
sum to advance some charitable object, he would 
grudge small outlays on any matter purely personal, 
except, perhaps, the purchase of books, on which he 
expended considerable sums. 

He never forgot old friends, no matter what was 
their rank in life, and many who had been less fortunate 
than himself he privately and delicately assisted. 
Among these was * Leila,' who, in life's young dream, 
he had glowingly celebrated in verse, and who, as has 
been stated, was led to contract a marriage which, while 

336 MEMOIR. 

frustrating my brother's hopes, proved particularly unfor- 
tunate to herself. His early attachment to Lelia sobered 
down in after years to a friendly interest in her hapless 
fate. As a widow in reduced circumstances, she was 
indebted to his considerately administered bounty. In 
his latter days, when broken down in health, he paid her 
what might be termed a farewell visit. Both were on the 
verge of the grave, and the interview, as I have under- 
stood, was correspondingly affecting. It brought up 
a crowd of reminiscences almost too choking for utter- 
ance. What, in losing him, through the well-meant but 
indiscreet decision of her mother, had she not suffered 
— reverse of fortune, and its manifold attendant ills, 
from which she might otherwise have been exempt ! 
Holding out his hand, which she clasped for the last 
time, she dropped on it an involuntary tear ! It was a 
j parting salutation. They never saw each other again. 
i-^ ' The final chapter in a sorrowful romance was closed. 
sJ Lelia was not forgotten in my brother's will. He left her 
a provision sufficient for her moderate wants ; but this 
she did not live to enjoy. She survived her early admirer 
and benefactor only the short space of three months. 

My brother's scientific and literary tastes led him to 
be elected a Fellow of several learned Societies, in the 
proceedings of which, more particularly the Royal 
Society of Edinburgh, he occasionally took a prominent 
part. He was also, as stated, a member of the Athe- 
naeum Club, where he spent much of his time when in 
London in converse with valued literary friends. 

Diligent, accurate, and upright, he had clear views 
on all ordinary concerns ; and no one could be more 
unscrupulous in his denunciation of whatever was 
narrow, mean, or dishonourable. If, in any of these 


respects, he sometimes cherished resentments that, 
founded on misconception and prejudice, had belter 
have been forgotten, it is allowable to think that such 
feelings might fairly be imputed to an overwrought 
susceptibility of temperament not common in the 
ordinary walks of life. 

In the common language of the world, Robert's life 
had been 'successful.' From humble beginnings, he had 
risen to the enjoyment of a fair share of earthly posses- 
sions. Let it, however, be understood that he never 
sought to acquire wealth for its own sake. He had a 
hatred of mere money-making. Life with him, as I may 
say with myself, was viewed as a trust for much more 
noble ends than that of miserly accumulation. At the 
outset, as has been seen, we had both to encounter some 
privations, but the struggle was by no means either dis- 
couraging or cheerless. Sustained by an earnest reso- 
lution to rise, if possible, above the position in which 
we had been plunged by family disasters, there was an 
ever present, an unextinguishable impulse upwards. 
Excelsior ! — the very difficulties to be overcome being 
in themselves a discipline and means of making us 
usefully acquainted with a variety of amusing character 
and incident. 

Nor should I omit another sustaining influence. 
Robert and I had from boyhood a keen love of, a 
veneration for, books. We revelled in imaginative, as 
well as in the more serious kinds of literature. Poetry 
and old ballads and legends were our early as well 
as our later solace. In looking back through a long 
vista of years to the ' Dark Ages,' I cannot but think 
that this species of enjoyment was not only actively, 
but negatively advantageous. There was always for 

338 MEMOIR. 

us something to think of, besides ordinary cares, some- 
thing to modify and subdue the temptation to mean 
indulgences. The spare nooks of the mind were kept 
tenanted by elevating emotions. Poor we were, but 
so far as the pleasures of reading were concerned, we 
might be said to be almost on a level with the affluent. 
Obscure as was our lot, we were enabled, as it were, 
to come into the presence, and be impressed with the 
ideas of the great writers of our country. This constant 
converse with men of literary renown through their 
printed productions, no doubt helped greatly to prepare 
Robert, despite his imperfect education, for his future 
career, and for gaining that general estimation to which 
he happily attained. To the young and friendless, 
therefore, his life ought to be alike instructive and 

Yet, in the story of this humble and ambitious student, 
there is really nothing new. You will find the same 
tale told in proverbs and apologues thousands of years 
old ; the value of diligent application associated with 
integrity and a cultivation of the nobler sentiments 
of our nature. From first to last — in early life especially 
— he offered in his own person an example of one who, 
in all matters of importance, practised the maxim, 
Trust to yourself. In this spirit, he wrote one of his 
best moral essays, shewing that the only true way to 
make a happy progress through the world, is to go on 
in a dogged, persevering pursuit of one good object, 
asking no favours, neither courting any special patronage, 
nor relying on counsels which may be worthless. The 
principles which he and I laid down could not, un- 
fortunately, be always adhered to without inflicting a 
degree of pain on ourselves and others. From the outset, 


we resolved never to allow our names to be employed 
in connection with undertakings which did not meet 
our approval, and over which we could exercise no 
personal supervision. Unpleasant, if not harsh, as such 
a rule may appear, it would be better for the com- 
mercial world were it more generally acted upon. 

Actuated by correct and generous impulses, Robert's 
career afforded a lesson not only to the young, but to the 
middle-aged. The talents which had been beneficently 
given him were employed not alone for his own benefit; 
they were exercised for the welfare and happiness of 
others. On all occasions, he assiduously exercised the 
moral and intellectual faculties, with such development 
for practical ends as the circumstances of his position 
admitted. There was furthermore a purity, a simplicity, 
a geniality about his whole career, which we do not 
often see so consistently or so amiably demonstrated. 
In youth, in manhood, and in declining age, in all the 
social phases through which he passed, he was ever the 
same gentle and benign being — loved and esteemed by 
all who knew him. 

With regard to my brother's literary character and 
works, I shall not, having said so much already, attempt 
any elaborate estimate or analysis. His best services 
were devoted to his native country, and, with the 
exception of his illustrious contemporary, Sir Walter 
Scott, no other author has done so much to illustrate 
its social state, its scenery, romantic historical inci- 
dents, and antiquities — the lives of its eminent men — 
and the changes in Scottish society and the condition 
of the people (especially those in the capital), during the 
last two centuries. His first work, the Traditions of 
Edinburgh, evinced this strong bias and ruling passion 

340 MEMOIR. 

of his mind. He was, as has been stated, assisted by 
Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe and Sir Walter Scott, but 
the great bulk of the traditions and all their setting were 
his own. He knew every remarkable house, its pos- 
sessors, and their genealogy ; every wynd and close 
from the Castle-hill to Holyrood ; and in describing 
these, he poured forth a vast amount of curious 
reading and information, much of which would have 
been lost but for the taste and diligence of so enthusi- 
astic a collector. Perhaps this work will hereafter be 
considered the most unique and valuable of all his 
labours. His next production, however, has enjoyed a 
still greater share of popularity. I allude to the History 
of the Rehellio7i of 1745-6, a work which was very 
carefully written; and the subject had a wide and deep 
interest, for the enterprise of Charles Edward was one 
of those bold and striking events in which history 
assumes the colour and fascination of romance. As 
latterly extended, by materials gathered from the Lyon 
in Motcrningj^ the book has taken its place among our 
standard historical works, as a faithful and animated 
narrative of one of the most striking and memorable 
periods in our national annals. 

The other popular histories written between 1827 and 
1830 are less original and less valuable than the narra- 
tive of the '45. The Calendars of State Papers were not 
then published, nor had antiquarian clubs and family 
repositories enriched our stores of historical knowledge 

* This curious and valuable collection of manuscripts has been 
bequeathed to the Faculty of Advocates, Edinburgh, in grateful 
acknowledgment of the many benefits derived from their extensive 


with those minute and graphic details which add life, 
and spirit, and individuality to the pages of Macaulay 
and Froude. My brother's works are of the nature 
of memoirs. His object was to present a view or 
portraiture of the external circumstances of the period 
embraced — a series of military narratives — rather than 
to attempt ' histories of the legitimate description, which 
should appeal only to the moral faculties of the select 
few.' He anticipated Macaulay in desiring to make 
history interesting to the many, embracing details of the 
manners, customs, social habits, and daily life of the 
nation ; and with all young readers, and generally with 
the middle and lower ranks of the Scottish people, he 
was eminently successful. Of a kindred character with 
these works was the Popular Rhymes of Scotland, an 
amusing embodiment of folk-lore and mementos of 
childhood descending from one generation to another 
in various countries of Europe. 

By the establishment of Chambers's Journal, my 
brother was happily led into a new walk of literature. 
He came forward as a weekly essayist. During fifteen 
years, as he has himself related, he laboured in this field, 
* alternately gay, grave, sentimental, and philosophical,' 
until not much fewer than four hundred separate papers 
proceeded from his pen. In these were best seen his 
imaginative faculties. His familiar and humorous 
sketches of Scottish life and character are allowed to 
be true to nature; they were certainly drawn from 
the life, and may be compared to the descriptions 
of Henry Mackenzie in the Mirror and Lounger as to 
discrimination and fidelity of portraiture ; but those 
of the earlier essayist are confined to the higher ranks 
of Scottish society. Many of my brother's essays 

342 MEMOIR. 

are also on literary and antiquarian topics, and will be 
found not only honourable to his diligence as a self- 
directed and self-upheld student, but replete with correct, 
humane, and manly feeling. Essays or short disquisi- 
tions on scientific subjects were occasionally inserted in 
the Journal, for, as has been shewn, my brother, latterly, 
devoted much time and study to geology and other 
departments of physical science — the result of which 
was the work on Ancient Sea-Margins, and a variety of 
papers communicated to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. 

The patient investigation, long journeys, and careful 
accumulation of facts employed in establishing his geo- 
logical theories, indicate the true scientific spirit and 
enthusiasm, and there can be little doubt that, had the 
circumstances of his early life been more favourable, 
he would have taken a high place among the men 
of science who have illustrated the nineteenth century. 
Considering that his education, as he frankly avows, 
never cost his parents so much as ten pounds, the 
wonder is that he did so much. 

Referring to my brother's services to geology, Mr 
Prestwich, President of the Geological Society, in his 
anniversary address to the Society, 1872, observes: 
'In 1852, Mr Robert Chambers published a paper on 
" Glacial Phenomena in Scotland and Parts of England," 
in which he was, if not the first, one of the first, to 
maintain that while our lake district had been the seat_ 
of local glaciers, each of which moved do\\'n its respect- 
ive valley, the glaciation of Scotland had been far more 
general, more like that of Greenland at present. He 
shewed the prevalence, over all the north of Scotland, 
of striae having a general direction north-west and south- 
east, passing over high hills and traversing the valleys, 


independently of the configuration of the country ; and 
he considers that this points to a wide extension of the 
circum-polar ice, with a southward movement of it over 
the greater part of Scotland. To the abrasion caused 
by this enormous mass of ice, he was disposed to 
attribute, not only the rounded form of many of the 
hills, but the excavation of many of the valleys ; while 
he assigned to a later period, the more local radiating 
valley system of glaciers. He instanced, in support of 
these views, similar phenomena in Scandinavia, where 
the glaciation has also been general, and passed over 
tracts four thousand feet in height. In 1848, his well- 
known work on Ancient Sea-Margins appeared. . . . 
Much as we may differ from the author on the extent of 
his generalisation and number of sea-levels, the work is 
full of interesting facts and descriptions, collected with 
great .care and labour, which cannot fail to be useful to 
future observers. ... His later descriptive works, 
Tracifigs of the North of Europe, Tracings of Iceland, 
and others, are full of excellent observations relating to 
various geological questions connected with the glacial 
and other phenomena of the Quaternary period.' 

As regards Robert's Cyclopedia of English Literature, 
his Life and Writings of Burns, his Domestic Annals of 
Scotland, his Book of Days, and the lesser works he pro- 
duced, sufficient has perhaps been said in the course of 
this Memoir. On none of his later works did he look 
back with so much heartfelt pleasure and satisfaction, and 
none deserves greater praise for its remarkable fidelity, 
than that concerning Robert Burns. Here, for the first 
time, the life of the poet, with all its lights and shades, 
was correctly delineated. The story of Highland Mary, 
and the dark days of Dumfries, were placed truly before 

344 MEMOIR. 

the world, and allusions in the poems and letters were 
fully explained. Of all future editions of the Scottish 
poet, this explanatory and chronological one must form 
the basis. 

Altogether, as nearly as can be reckoned, my brother 
produced upwards of seventy volumes, exclusive of de- 
tached papers which it would be impossible to enumer- 
ate. His whole writings had for their aim the good of 
society — the advancement in some shape or other of 
the true and beautiful. It will hardly be thought that 
I exceed the proper bounds of panegyric in stating, 
that in the long list of literary compositions of Robert 
Chambers, we see the zealous and successful student, 
the sagacious and benevolent citizen, and the devoted 
lover of his country. 

W. C. 
yaiiiiary, 1873. 


1865— 18S3 

( 347 ) 


1865— 1883. 

T^HE story of William and Robert Chambers, as 
-*- told in the foregoing lively and graceful record 
from the pen of the elder brother, brings the romantic 
narrative of their lives down to 187 1, the year in which 
Robert died. In 1883, twelve years afterwards, and 
when eleven editions of this work had gone through the 
press, William, full of years and honours, passed like- 
wise from the scene of his early struggles and later 
triumphs, and it falls to another pen to complete the 
story of his singular life. In so doing, it seems desir- 
able that the history of this later period of William 
Chambers's career should begin with the year 1S65, at 
which time he was elected to the high and honourable 
office of Lord Provost of the city of Edinburgh. The 
brief and modest reference which he has made to 
the circumstance in the preceding pages, far from 
adequately sets forth the extent of his services in his 
official capacity, and the value of these services to the 
community. It is not only becoming, therefore, but a 
simple act of justice to his memory, that in this volume 
those public measures of his which served to round off 


and complete a long and varied career of usefulness, 
should have due prominence given to them in this 
supplementary record of his closing years. 

In the beginning of 1882, the Jubilee year of the 
Journal which he had originated in 1832, Dr William 
Chambers took occasion to contribute to its pages some 
notes of his career as associated therewith, which notes 
he afterwards extended and published in a little volume 
under the title of Story of a Long atid Busy Life. In 
this volume he says : * In 1865, the citizens of Edinburgh 
were in want of a Lord Provost, and, to my surprise, 
fixed on me for the distinguished office. I had hitherto 
shrunk from taking any prominent part in public affairs ; 
and on the present occasion only acceded to the general 
solicitations from a wish to promote, if possible, certain 
measures of social improvement. From a consideration 
of the state of large cities, I entertained the convic- 
tion, that the insalubrity, the vice and misery, that 
prevail among the more abject classes, are traceable in 
a great measure to that inveterately wrong system of 
house construction which consists in narrow courts and 
alleys branching from the main thoroughfares. I felt 
that if I could possibly obliterate, by legislation, the 
hideous resorts in these quarters, a good deed would be 

This was the beginning and motive of the Edinburgh 
City Improvement Act of 1867, which has effected so 
great a change for the better on the social and sanitary 
condition of the Scottish capital, and the example of 
which has since been followed with advantage in more 
than one of the larger towns of England and Scotland. 
The passing of the Edinburgh Act was not secured 


without considerable opposition in certain quarters ; but 
Dr Chambers had made his account with this. He was 
aware, from his knowledge of the world, that no such 
sweeping measure of reform as that proposed by him 
could possibly be carried through without exciting the 
hostility of those whose conservative habits of thought, 
or local and proprietary interests, rendered them averse 
from engaging in a scheme that would of necessity efface 
so many of the time-honoured associations of the ancient 
city. The line of the Pligh Street and Canongatc, 
occupying the crest of the ridge that slopes down from 
the Castle-rock to Holyrood, has been from time im- 
memorial flanked on both sides by thick rows of houses, 
only separated from each other by narrow wynds and 
closes, which branch off at right angles from the main 
thoroughfare like ribs from the backbone of a skeleton. 
Many of the buildings, so huddled away down narrow 
lanes, were at one time the dwelling-places of Scotland's 
nobility and gentry. But the removal of the court and 
parliament from Edinburgh, and the gradual change in 
the character of the population due to the extension of 
the city outward, had left these aristocratic residences 
to be divided and subdivided to suit the wants of 
tenants in a constantly descending social scale, till 
at length, in many quarters, these densely-jiopulated 
' lands ' — as such rows of houses are called — were 
almost wholly given over to the more vicious and prof- 
ligate of the community, and had become the haunts of 
crime and misery in every form. These houses, besides 
harbouring idle and evil-disposed persons, were at the 
same time the hotbed of fevers and other malignant 
forms of disease, which no amount of police and sanitary 
supervision was able adequately to cope with. The 

350 MEMOIR. 

problem how to deal with the difficulty had been the 
subject of much thought on the part of Dr Chambers, 
and the conclusion to which he came was, that the only 
way to improve these quarters of the city was to obtain 
power to demolish them, or at anyrate a portion of 
them, and to replace the closely-huddled and tumble- 
down tenements by broad and open lines of street, 
accessible to the free air and the sunshine. 

This resolution was not unaccompanied by some 
sentiments of regret, Dr Chambers shared largely in 
his brother Robert's veneration for the historical 
antiquities of Edinburgh ; and the removal of those 
old houses, that bore about them, even in their decay, 
so many memorials of a vanished past — sculptured coats 
of arms, pious mottoes of ancient founders, dates 
and names suggestive of many a stirring page in 
Scottish story — was not to be thought of without 
regretting the necessities of modern life which rendered 
their demolition desirable. This feeling of respect for 
the fading relics of a grand historic past was rational 
and patriotic ; but the social and sanitary claims of 
present existence were still more urgent, and the work 
of reform could not with safety be postponed. 

Dr Chambers no sooner, therefore, entered upon the 
duties of his civic office than he set about those 
preliminary investigations that were necessary to the 
success of his scheme. The report of the medical 
officer of the city sufficiently indicated the enormously 
high death-rate that prevailed in the insalubrious and 
densely-populated quarters of the Old Town ; and the 
facts thus elicited strongly impressed Dr Chambers 
with the necessity of at once obtaining statutory powers 
to enable the Town Council to deal with the questioa 


The powers thus required would be directed towards 
the pulling down and removal of the large blocks of old 
and crowded tenements, the widening of wynds and 
alleys, and the formation of wide and convenient streets. 
In the drafting and carrying out of this important 
scheme, Dr Chambers fully acknowledged the efficient 
help and assistance which he received in the work from 
the city officials, chiefly Mr J. D. Marwick, then Town 
Clerk, and Mr Robert Adam, the City Accountant. 
The result was the passing of the Improvement Act of 
1867, under the operation of which extensive changes 
have been made in the distribution of population in the 
city. Spacious streets have taken the place of many of 
the old narrow, sunless, pestiferous lanes ; and the work- 
ing inhabitants that before were huddled away in dens 
inaccessible to light and air, have now at their disposal 
a class of houses with which their former domiciles 
cannot be brought into comparison, either as regards 
the nature of their accommodation or the salubrity of 
their surroundings. 

The Improvement Act was in all respects a success. 
Between 1867 and the time of Dr Chambers's death, 
there had been expended, under the Improvement Trust, 
in the purchase and removal of nearly three thousand 
houses, the sum of ;p^S33,657; while there was derived 
from the sale of new building sites disposed of on the 
ground tluis cleared, and from a small annual rate and 
other sources of income, the sum of ^443,460. The 
excess of expenditure over receipts at the end of the 
fifteenth year of the Trust's existence was thus ^90,197 ; 
but as the Trust will continue till 1887, with various 
ground annuals and building areas still at its disposal, 
it is believed that at the end of the twenty years 

352 MEMOIR. 

fixed by the Act, a financially successful issue will 
have been achieved. This magnificent scheme of 
urban reform had a strikingly beneficial effect upon 
the health and general condition of the population; 
a remarkable proof of which is to be found in the fact, 
that the death-rate of Edinburgh, which in 1865 was 
twenty-six per thousand per annum, had in 18S2 fallen 
to eighteen per thousand. 

From 1865 to 1868, Dr Chambers worked vigorously 
at his Improvement Scheme ; and when his triennial 
period of oflice came to an end in the latter year, 
he allowed himself to be re-elected for a second period, 
in order to secure certain portions of his scheme being 
carried out upon the lines laid down by him. He was 
successful in effecting his purpose, though not without a 
stiff fight ; and this accomplished, he resigned his office 
at the end of 1869, and retired into private life. 

While the civic rule of Dr Chambers was mainly 
distinguished by his reforms under the City Improve- 
ment Scheme, it was also signalised by the visits of 
various eminent personages to the city. In May 1866, 
he had the honour of entertaining at luncheon His 
Royal Highness Prince Alfred, now Duke of Edinburgh, 
along with a number of noble and distinguished guests, 
on the occasion of the opening of the National Museum 
of Science and Art, in Chambers Street.* It also fell 
to him as Lord Provost to preside at the presentation 
of the freedom of the city to three distinguished men, 
namely. Lord Napier of Magdala, ]\Ir John Bright, and 
Mr Benjamin Disraeli (afterwards Lord Beaconsfield), 

*This is one of the finest of the new streets made under the 
Improvement Trust, and was so named in honour of Dr Chambers. 


then Chancellor of the Exchequer. The presentation 
to Mr Disraeli took place on the 30th October 1867 ; 
and on the previous day, when being entertained at a 
great public banquet, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, 
in toasting ' the Magistrates of the City,' referred to the 
application of literature to the world generally as a 
distinguishing feature of the present age, and added : 
' I do not think that the name of Chambers will ever 
be mentioned in the future without a sentiment of 
gratitude.' This reference could not fail to be highly 
pleasing to Dr Chambers, and was not more than his 
own and his brother's services to literature amply 

During the currency of his office as Lord Provost, 
and in his official capacity, Dr Chambers was presented 
at Court. This event took place at a levde held at the 
palace of St James, on the 2d of May 1866, Her Majesty 
on the occasion being represented by the Prince of 
Wales. 'On going up the great staircase,' says Dr 
Chambers, with a touch of natural feeling, ' I confess to 
being affected by a strange sensation. A recollection 
of my early stmggles rushed across my memory. Plow 
strange the metamorphosis, from having been a penni- 
less and unknown youth to being a full-blown dignitary 
arrayed in rich apparel, and wearing the robes and 
insignia of office. Without presumption, could I help 
remembering the notable text in Scripture, which had 
similarly occurred to the mind of Benjamin Franklin ? 
"Seest thou a man diligent in business? he shall stand 
before kings.'" 

The Lord Provost of Edinburgh is cx-officio a member 
of the Commission of Northern Lighthouses, a body 
invested with the duty of managing all the lighthouses on 

354 MEMOIR. 

the coast of Scotland and the Isle of Man. The Com- 
missioners are in the habit of annually making a tour of 
inspection, in a steamer called the Pharos, belonging to 
the service, to certain of the lighthouses under their 
charge; and Dr Chambers on two occasions took part in 
this official duty. It will be remembered that in 1814 
Sir Walter Scott had the honour of being invited to join 
the Commissioners of the time in their annual tour, 
and that English literature is indebted to that voyage 
for the poem of The Lord of the Isles and the romance 
of The Pirate. The fact that Scott had thus preceded 
him in a tour among the picturesque bays and wild 
islets of the Scottish coast, was to Dr Chambers a 
matter of pleasing recollection, Scott being one of 
those authors whom he especially, and for obvious 
reasons, held in high esteem. Both had a strong love 
for their native land ; its history was to each a matter 
of every-day study; its old families were enshrined to 
both in a halo of past associations ; its woods and 
hills and rivers had become mapped in the mind of 
each by long and loving observation ; and each in his 
own way had used its ancient traditions and historical 
episodes for the instruction and entertainment of later 

Dr Chambers's first trip in the Pharos took place in 
1866, on which occasion he visited the west coast of 
Scotland, among the Outer Hebrides. He had also an 
opportunity of ascending what he calls ' that wonderful 
triumph of art,' the Skerryvore lighthouse, rising to 
the height of one hundred and fifty feet above high 
water. As the vessel approached Skerryvore, which was 
seen looming dimly through the dull haze, solitary amidst 
the world of waters, ' the feeling,' he says, ' of those who 


had not previously seen it was one of intense pleasure 
and satisfaction. There are sights of such impressive 
grandeur as cannot be forgotten, and the recollection 
of which forms one of the charms of existence. Among 
these I have reckoned the falls of Niagara, the ruins of 
the Colosseum, the interior of St Peter's, and now am 
able to add the Skerryvore lighthouse.' 

The second trip in the Pharos, which was in the 
following year, took Dr Chambers along the east coast 
of Scotland, from the Firth of Forth and Bell Rock 
lighthouses, to the far islands of Orkney and Shetland. 
The external characteristics of these islands are familiar 
to readers of The Pirate; and Dr Chambers was careful 
to note, at Sumburgh Head and other jjlaces mentioned 
in the romance, the extraordinary fidelity of Scott in his 
descriptions of the scenery, and the charm which his 
work had given to places and names which otherwise 
had scarcely been known outside Shetland. Under 
the title of ' My Holiday,' Dr Chambers wrote an 
account of these two excursions, in a series of articles 
which appeared in Chatnbers's Journal, and which were 
afterwards printed in a small volume for private cir- 
culation. These papers are marked by racy bits of 
description, wise and practical observations on the 
condition of the scattered populations whom he thus 
visited, and useful suggestions for their future improve- 
ment, especially as regards the development of the 
fisheries on the western coast. 

With his retirement from the Lord Provostship of 
Edinburgh, towards the end of 1869, Dr Chambers's 
brief jjeriod of public life may be said to have come 
to an end. He once more fell back into tlie familiar 


groove of his early and middle years, dividing his time 
between his literary pursuits, and the direction of the 
large publishing establishment which he and his brother 
had founded. The latter was now suffering from 
declining health, and in 187 1, as already told in these 
pages, the end came. Thereafter, Dr William Chambers 
spent some time abroad, in the district of Mentone, 
which was his favourite continental resort ; and though 
his pen was not altogether idle, the advance of age 
rendered him less disposed towards the laborious exer- 
tions of his earlier years. Nevertheless, besides writing 
the present Memoir of his brother, and contributing an 
occasional article to the Journal whose welfare he had 
ever keenly at heart, he managed in these years to pro- 
duce a few other works. Two of these were suggested 
by his sojourn abroad. Wintering at Mentone was the 
result of his residence for two winters at that pleasant 
resort in the Riviera; and Fra?ice: its History and 
Revolutions, was due to his desire to place in the hands 
of young persons a simple and succinct account of 
some of the chief events in the history of France — which 
history had become, by the Franco-German war of 
1870-71, a subject of fresh and exciting interest to both 
young and old. The latter book has passed through 
four editions. While abroad, also, he WTOte Ailie 
Gilroy, a story which he tells us was founded on facts, 
and written with the view to put young ladies on their 
guard against designing adventurers. 

During the last six or seven years of his life he began 
to take a less active part in the concerns of his business, 
though his interest in its welfare and his knowledge of 
all its operations were in no degree lessened. The 
direction of its literary projects, however, including the 


management of Chambers's Journa/, was gradually 
passed into the hands of his nephew, Mr Robert 
Chambers, the eldest son of his brother Robert ; and 
the greater rest and leisure which he thus secured gave 
him the opportunity of carrying out and completing a 
work which he had long had in contemplation, and with 
which his name was in his latest years very closely 
associated, namely, the restoration of the Cathedral 
Church of St Giles, Edinburgh. 

This ancient edifice, dating from about the twelfth 
century, is closely connected with the leading events 
of Scottish history, and was the scene of many re- 
markable episodes in Reformation times, as well as 
during the later struggle in Scotland between Episco- 
pacy and Presbyterianism. When the ecclesiastical 
changes consequent upon the establishment of Pro- 
testantism in the sixteenth century had put an end to 
the old Roman Catholic ritual, and St Giles' had become 
a place of plain Presbyterian worship, its long-drawn 
aisles were not thought advantageous to the preachers 
of the day, and the interior of the edifice was con- 
sequently partitioned off into a number of separate 
places of worship. The stone walls which thus cut the 
fine old church into small and meaningless sections, 
entirely destroyed the effect of its original architecture ; 
while the erection of the high steep galleries which 
filled the side aisles and blocked up every possible 
recess, had been effected at the cost of much hacking 
and hewing of the ancient stone-work. A so-called 
process of rehabilitation of the edifice in 1830, when 
the exterior of the building was newly incased in stone, 
helped still further to obliterate its historic features ; the 
stately old tower, surmounted by its finely-proportioned 

358 MEMOIR. 

mural crown, being now perhaps the only characteristic 
of its external aspect which can really be regarded as 
ancient. The interior, also, at the same time underwent 
certain other changes for the worse. In order that the 
preacher might be seen by as many of the congregation 
as possible, the massive octagonal pillars in the nave 
were sliced down into narrow fluted shafts, altogether 
out of keeping with the general character of the 
architecture ; and in order that room might be made 
for the galleries, arches and capitals were ruthlessly cut 
into, and the whole place made as unlike its ancient 
self as possible. What was done in the nave, was to 
a great extent imitated in the transepts and choir; 
while the side chapels were either demolished, or, as 
was the case with the historic Albany Aisle, completely 
blocked up with the unadorned wood-work of galleries 
and pews. 

The idea of restoring the Church of St Giles to some- 
thing like its ancient condition — as far at least as 
regarded the interior, for the exterior was hopelessly 
changed— occurred to Dr Chambers during those years 
when he was Lord Provost of Edinburgh. He had 
frequently occasion to attend public worship officially 
along with the other Magistrates and members of the 
Town Council, the place of assemblage being the choir 
of the old cathedral. This portion of St Giles' was 
known as the High Church ; but there were other two 
places of worship within the edifice, all three being 
divided from each other by stone walls that formed 
no part of the original building, and with separate 
congregations meeting in each. It was while sitting in 
the choir, or High Church, in the elevated gallery 
reserved for the Magistrates and Town Council of the 


city, that Dr Chambers, as he tells us, * conceived the 
idea of attempting a restoration of the building, and 
producing a church in which the people of Edinburgh 
might feel some pride.' 

The objects he originally had in promoting the 
restoration of the building, in the first place by public 
subscription, and latterly at his own cost, have been 
clearly defined by himself, and were never in any essen- 
tial respect departed from. He did not forget that such 
an edifice as St Giles' was not primarily designed for 
the purposes of modem Presbyterian worship ; and his 
desire was to restore its interior as nearly as possible to 
its original condition, when, as he remarks in a paper 
which he read on the subject in 1867, ' the whole interior 
was an open space, with only such furnishings as per- 
tained to a dignified ecclesiastical structure previous to 
the Reformation.* ' With the removal of the partition- 
walls,' he said, ' my aim goes the length of clearing out 
the whole interior, so as to bring it back, as nearly as 
possible, to what it was originally.' The choir, or High 
Church, was the first portion of the building which he 
proposed to renovate ; more could not be attempted 
until the congregations which occupied the other two 
divisions were removed elsewhere. But he was hopeful 
that even these obstacles to the complete restoration of 
the fabric would in course of time disappear ; in which 
case, he said, ' the proposal I would offer is, to clear 
away the dividing walls, take down all the galleries, 
remove the pews, bring all to a uniform level, and leave 
an open stretch of pavement tliroughout. l"',xcei)ting 
the partially inclosed choir, tiie whole eilifice wouhi be 
free to the perambulation of visitors.' He further 
hoped that the restoration of the building and per- 

36o MEMOIR. 

manent clearance of the nave would give an oppor- 
tunity for the erection therein of monuments to distin- 
guished Scotchmen of past and future times, and that 
St Giles', in a sense, might come to be viewed as the 
Westminster Abbey of Scotland. 

When once the idea of the restoration had suggested 
itself to him, he entered into the matter with his 
accustomed decision and vigour. An influential and 
enthusiastic public committee, of which he was chair- 
man, was shortly formed, with the object of collecting 
funds to defray the cost of the proposed work. The 
part of the edifice to which the efforts of the Restora- 
tion Committee were first directed, was, as had been 
proposed, the choir; and the committee was fairly 
successful in its efibrts. The renovation of the choir 
was not at this time so thorough as might have been 
desired ; but still the improvement eftected upon its 
appearance was very marked, and it might once more 
lay claim to the artistic beauty of which former genera- 
tions had thoughtlessly deprived it. 

The first renovation of the choir was finished in 
1873; and five years afterwards, one of the other two 
portions of the building fell into disuse as a place of 
worship. Dr Chambers, whose zeal for the complete 
restoration of the church had never abated, took advan- 
tage of this opportunity, resolving to apply the same 
process of renovation to it that had been so effective 
in the choir. But this time he determined to relieve 
the Restoration Committee of any further trouble and 
responsibility, and to proceed entirely on his own judg- 
ment, and at his own cost. Even the most enthusiastic 
of committees rarely work without more or less of 
friction, which means in the end irritation and delay ; 


and Dr Chambers's advanced age, and the extent of 
the task which he had now set before himself to 
accompUsh — namely, the complete restoration and open- 
ing up of the whole interior of St Giles' — rendered it 
necessary that the work should be done as smoothly 
and expeditiously as possible, if he were to sec the 
end of his labours. In 1878, therefore, and the 
following year, he succeeded in restoring the southern 
aisles of the church, including the Preston and Chepman 
Aisles. The Preston Aisle, as renovated, exhibits a 
beauty of groining which is said not to be surpassed, 
if equalled, in Great Britain ; while under the Chepman 
Aisle, which had been degraded into a coal-cellar, is 
the vault wherein were deposited the mortal remains 
of the great Montrose. 

There now only remained to complete the restoration 
of this fine old historic church, the nave and the north 
transept, with the adjoining chapels. Before this work 
could be begun, however, elaborate arrangements had 
to be made, by Act of Parliament and otherwise, for the 
removal of the congregation then worshipping in tlie 
nave, the arrangements being burdened by the necessity 
of collecting from the public a sum of j[^'i-0,%oo to pro- 
vide that congregation with a church elsewhere. Con- 
ditional upon this sum being raised, and the keys of the 
building handed over to Dr Chambers by Whitsunday 
1880, he, on his part, undertook to carry out and com- 
plete the work of restoration. A committee was formed, 
which charged itself with the collection of the sum in 
question ; but the ai)peal made to the public was at first 
only meagrely responded to, many being disposed to 
regard the restoration as rather of a denominational 
than a national character. But the intentions of Dr 

362 MEMOIR. 

Chambers were clearly public and national, and not 
sectarian in any sense. The renovation proposed by 
him was undertaken with the view, not of benefiting 
any particular Church or congregation, but of beautify- 
ing a neglected national edifice, and rendering it in some 
degree a place of national utility — in his own words, a 
Westminster Abbey of Scotland, As these patriotic 
and undenominational objects of Dr Chambers became 
clearer to the public, principally through the advocacy of 
the newspaper press, which all throughout had favoured 
his project, money began to come in more freely, and 
from all sections of society. It was not, however, till 
the spring of 1881 that the money was fully secured, 
and the congregation removed from the nave of St 
Giles'. The workmen were thenceforth for two years 
busily engaged upon this last stage of the restoration, 
which included not only the nave and northern chapels, 
but also a more complete renovation of the choir than 
it had undergone in 1873, 

Unfortunately, while this work of restoration was 
being pressed forward, the health of the Restorer 
himself was evidently failing. At this time he was 
in his eighty-second year, and for a long while had 
suffered periodically from severe neuralgic pains in the 
head, followed by more or less of prostration of the 
system. In the spring of 1881, these attacks recurred 
more frequently and with greater vehemence, accom- 
panied by fits of sickness of a depressing kind. In the 
summer he went to Portobello, a watering-place in the 
neighbourhood of Edinburgh, where he stayed for some 
weeks, and was so much benefited by the change, that 
he was able to spend the autumn, as had long been his 
annual custom, at his estate of Glenormiston, in Peebles- 


shire.* While not altogether free from occasional neur- 
algic attacks, he was, during 1882, somewhat improved 
in his general health, though becoming physically 
weaker. But it was not till the beginning of 1883 that 
his condition became such as to alarm his friends. 
Throughout the early spring of that year, it could be 
seen that he was perceptibly breaking down both in 
mind and body. Till then, and even while suffering 
the most acute pain, his intellect had remained un- 
touched ; he thought, and spoke, and acted, in all 
matters of business or advising that came before him, 
with the clearness and promptitude of his most vigorous 
years. But now it was obvious that his memory was 
failing, and his mind exhibiting otherwise symptoms of 
decay. ' The keeper of the house was beginning to 
tremble, and the strong man to bow himself. ' Happily, 
his illness was no longer accompanied by acute 
suffering; it was simply a gradual exhaustion of the 
vital energies, the machinery of life worn done by old 
age and use. 

During the last year of his life, the St Giles' restoration 
formed the chief object of his thoughts, and reports were 
regularly made to him of the progress of the work and 

* The estate of Glenormiston was purcliascd by Dr Chambers 
in 1849, for the sum of ;^25,ooo. It is finely situated on the 
Tweed, in the parish of Innerleithen, in the eastern district of the 
county of Peebles, and about five miles from his native town. 
Immediately after obtaining possession of the estate, Ur Chambers 
carried out extensive improvements upon it, adorning and beauti- 
fying it in many respects. He formed a new ajiproach, with 
entrance lodge, drained a large part of the land, reconstructed the 
farm-steading, and adapted the mansion-house to his requirements ; 
these and other improvements costing him the further sum of 



all that pertained to it. In 1879, he had written a 
Historical Sketch of St dies' Cathedral, embracing an 
account of the restorations up to that year ; and perhaps 
the last of his suggestions as an author and publisher 
was when, about a month before his death, and 
now no longer able to wield the pen himself, he 
requested one of his literary assistants to prepare a 
new edition of the Sketch, giving therein the final 
details of the restoration work. He was naturally 
desirous to live to see St Giles' in its renovated con- 
dition ; and with this view the operations, many of 
which involved much careful and artistic manipulation, 
had been for two years pushed rapidly forward. From 
1872 onward, the whole of the restoration work 
had been done by the advice and under the per- 
sonal superintendence of Mr William Hay, architect, 
Edinburgh, whose knowledge of ancient ecclesias- 
tical architecture is only equalled by the refined 
taste and artistic skill which he brought to bear upon 
the work. By the spring of 1883, the process of 
renovation was all but completed, and with a suc- 
cess even more striking than had been anticipated. 
Portion after portion of the ancient edifice had been 
cleared out, and each in succession renovated and 
restored, with the result of bringing back to the interior, 
so far as architectural effect is concerned, very much 
the appearance which we may suppose it to have had 
immediately before the Reformation. The magnificent 
restoration which Dr Chambers thus accomplished, 
was executed at a cost to himself of between t\venty 
and thirty thousand pounds. The re-opening of the 
church for public worship was fixed for Wednesday 
the 23d of May 1883 ; but three days previously 

DEA TIL 365 

Dr Chambers had passed away, and the imposing 
ceremony of the 23d was rendered all the more solemn 
and imj)ressive by the regretful feeling that he who 
had conceived and executed the design of restoration 
had died without witnessing the consummation of his 

His end, though not unexpected, came somewhat 
sooner than had been anticipated. During the first two 
weeks of May he had exhibited from time to time 
alarming symptoms of physical exhaustion, from which, 
however, he occasionally rallied, giving still some faint 
hopes of partial recovery. But on Friday the iSth of 
that month, he fell into a kind of lethargy, which con- 
tinued throughout the whole of Saturday, and into the 
morning of Sunday the 20th, when, a few minutes before 
two o'clock, he calmly breathed his last. 

His death was attended in the public mind by two 
poignant sources of regret. One of these we have 
already alluded to, namely, his death on the very eve of 
the re-opening of the restored St Giles'. The other was 
the flattering circumstance that, only two weeks before 
his death, Her Majesty the Queen, through her Prime 
Minister, Mr Gladstone, had offered Dr Chambers the 
honour of a baronetcy. Two years previously, Mr 
Gladstone had, in complimentary terms, made him an 
offer of a knighthood ; but that offer he then respect- 
fully declined. This later renewal of the honour, how- 
ever, in the shape of a baronetcy, Dr Chambers accepted ; 
but his end came before the title had been fomially 
bestowed. The great number of letters following 
immediately upon the announcement, and addressed 
to him by readers of Chainbers's Journal in all parts 
of the United Kingdom, congratulating him upon 

366 MEMOIR. 

the honour Her Majesty had at length done him, 
formed a strong indication of the interest which the 
pubhc felt in the matter. His death, therefore, ere 
the honour had been formally conferred upon him, 
could not fail to stimulate and increase the general 
regret when it was intimated that William Chambers 
was no more. 

The re-opening of St Giles' Cathedral for public wor- 
ship had been already fixed for the 23d of May ; and 
though at first it was naturally felt that the occurrence 
in the meantime of Dr Chambers's death might lead to 
a postponement of the ceremony, other considerations 
showed how impossible it was to stay a great public 
demonstration for which preparations had been making 
for weeks previously. It had been the desire of those 
charged with the arrangements, that the Queen should 
perform the opening ceremony ; but, in the unavoidable 
absence of Her Majesty, the duty was performed by 
the Right Hon. the Earl of Aberdeen, Lord High 
Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church 
of Scotland. The ceremony was in all respects a 
magnificent one, and was attended, not only by great 
numbers of the general public, but by representatives of 
all the chief public corporations in Scotland, including 
the Judges of the Court of Session, the Faculty of 
Advocates, the Society of Writers to the Signet, the 
Solicitors before the Supreme Courts, the Magistrates 
and Town Councillors of Edinburgh, the Senatus of 
the University, the Royal Colleges of Physicians and 
Surgeons, the Royal Scottish Academy, the High 
Constables of Holyrood, the Convener and Deacons 
of the Trades, and many other public bodies, besides 
almost the whole of the members of the General 


Assembly of the Church of Scotland. A choir of 
two hundred voices, with the organ, led the service 
of praise ; and a congregation of not fewer than three 
thousand persons crowded the immense building in 
every part. The judges, magistrates, clergy, and 
almost all the other representatives of public bodies 
present, were in their official robes ; and as deputation 
after deputation entered the church, and slowly filed up 
the nave to their respective places in the choir, the 
sight, with its imposing solemnity and occasionally 
picturesque effects, was suggestive of the pageants of an 
older day, when Scottish kings and queens graced with 
their presence the hallowed precincts of St Giles'. The 
opening sermon was preached by the minister of the 
Church, the Rev. J, Cameron Lees, D.D. ; and probably 
no one had addressed so large and distinguished an 
audience within the old historic edifice since the day 
when John Knox preached in the same place the funeral 
sermon of the Regent Moray. 

From the spring of 1881, Dr Chambers had practically 
been the custodian of the Church of St Giles, and the 
formal part of the opening ceremony consisted in the 
transference of the keys of the building from the posses- 
sion of his representatives to that of the Queen's 
Commissioner. With this object, Mr Robert Chambers, 
as representing his deceased uncle, awaited Lord 
Aberdeen at the west door of the Cathedral, and 
there, through the medium of Lord Provost Harrison, 
delivered the keys into his lordship's hand, who, after 
the formal ceremony of opening the door of the church, 
passed them into the custody of the minister, Dr Lees. 
Dr Chambers, feeling in the later weeks of his life the 
improbability of his being able to attend the opening 

368 MEMOIR. 

ceremony, had, with his cliaracteristic forethought, 
prepared an address which, in the event of his 
absence, was to be read to Her Majesty's representa- 
tive. This address, which was now read by Mr R. 
Chambers, is remarkable for the singular grace and 
simplicity of its language, and will be of permanent 
interest as among the last literary compositions dictated 
by the Restorer of St Giles' : 

To His Grace the Lord High Commissioner. 

May it Please Your Grace, 

I esteem it a high honour that Her Majesty has commis- 
sioned one so respected and esteemed, and whose name and 
family are so dear to Scotland, to represent her on this 

It is with much thankfulness that I have completed the 
restoration of this venerable Cathedral. 

The interests of Edinburgh, where I have spent so many 
years, are very dear to me ; and it is as a token of my affec- 
tion that I have endeavoured to restore her historic church 
to somewhat of its former beauty. 

It is ample reward to me to know that my work has met 
with the approval of my beloved Sovereign, and so many of 
her Scottish subjects. 

May I ask Your Grace to present my humble duty to Her 
Most Gracious Majesty, and to express my deep gratitude 
for her recognition of my labours. 

I have now to present to Your Grace the keys of St Giles', 
which have been intrusted to me for a time, and to ask 
Your Grace to open the church in name of Her TNIajesty the 

W. Chambers. 

The opening ceremony outside was followed by 
appropriate devotional services in the interior of the 
church ; after Avhich an eloquent sermon was preached 

SERMON. 369 

by Dr Lees from the words in Joshua iv. 21: ' What 
mean these stones ? ' In the course of the sermon, and 
in answer to the question of the text as apphed to 
the old historic fabric in which the congregation were 
assembled, the preacher said : 

* To-day these stones mean — henceforth they will menn 
— something more than before. They will be associated, 
not alone in our day, but in days to come, with noble 
munificence. They will be the monument of a great and 
generous Scottish man. A feeling of sadness has mingled 
with the ceremonial of to-day, a pathos which has given a 
solemnity to our service greater than any outward acces- 
sories could ever give it. There has been a presence 
to-day within these walls mightier than any earthly presence, 
the shadow that awes even the lightest-hearted into silence. 
We are celebrating the completion of a great work. The 
generous heart that prompted it, the thoughtful mind that 
carried it out, is for ever at rest. Another day will pass, 
and he will be borne here on the way to his burial, and his 
obsequies will be celebrated amid the beauty he created, 
but which he was never to see. There is something inex- 
pressibly touching in life thus closing on the threshold of 
achievement. It is ever so. The great leader dying with 
the light of the promised land in his eyes ; the funeral of 
the Persian poet passing out of one gate of the city, while 
camels bearing the gold that was to reward him were 
coming in at the other ; the last words of the laborious 
writer, Buckle, " My poor book !" "When the keys," Dr 
Chambers wrote, " are put into my hands, not an hour will 
be lost in accomplishing this important undertaking, and 
God grant me life and health to carry through the work to 
a successful issue." His reverent prayer has been answered. 
How successful the issue has been, you can all see. I know 
it lay very close to the heart of my dear old friend. Weak 
and feeble though he was, and confined long to his room, 
he knew every detail of what was being done here. " If 

37° MEMOTR. 

God," he once said to me feelingly, as he clasped my hand 
one day in parting with him, " enables me to finish this 
work, I will sing my Nunc Dimitlis." Often he told me of 
the motives that weighed with him in undertaking this 
work. He believed that this restored building might teach 
great historic lessons, that it might inspire men with the 
feeling of reverence, that it might be a source of good and 
sweetening influence in this city. All this is in keeping 
with the rest of his life. It is a life, like that of his distin- 
guished brother, of which Scotsmen may be proud. In 
its record of perseverance, endurance, foresight, perfect 
integrity, it displays the best features of the national 
character. The poor lad by honest industry rising to 
eminence, becoming the chief citizen of Edinburgh, in- 
augurating sanitary measures which lowered the terrible 
death-rate of the inhabitants of its formerly overcrowded 
tenements ; above all, becoming the founder of that popular 
literature which is so marked a feature of our time. These 
are things which will not be soon forgotten. There are few 
who did not rejoice when our gracious Sovereign intimated 
that she was to confer on him well-merited honour. There 
are none who did not feel a pang of sorrow at hearing how 
he passed away before that honour reached him. It is a 
touching story from first to last — a touching, yet, in many 
ways, an elevating and instructive one. So long, my 
brethren, as these stones remain one upon another, will 
men remember the deed that William Chambers hath done, 
and tell of it to their children.' 

Lord Aberdeen, at the conclusion of the service, 
communicated to Her Majesty the successful com- 
pletion of the ceremony of re-opening the Cathedral of 
St Giles, and a telegram was received in reply from the 
Queen's secretary. Sir Henry Ponsonby, with a message 
from Her Majesty, stating that the Queen had heard 
with sincere regret of the death of Dr Chambers 


before even his title had been gazetted, aftd express- 
ing Her Majesty's satisfaction at the success of the 

Friday, the 25th of May, was the day fixed for the 
funeral. It had been Dr Chambers's wish that he 
should be buried in his native town of Peebles, in 
the old St Andrew's churchyard there, beside the 
dust of his ancestors ; and preparations were made 
accordingly. The Magistrates and Town Council 
of Edinburgh resolved that the remains of the man 
who had at one time filled the civic chair, and 
whose public reforms and private munificence had 
done so much to enhance the city's attractions, should 
be honoured with a public funeral. The members of 
the Magistracy and Town Council, with other digni- 
taries of the city, in their official robes, met therefore, 
on the morning of the 25th, at Dr Chambers's 
house, No. 13 Chester Street, and accompanied his 
remains to St Giles' Cathedral, where a funeral service 
was to be held. As the procession moved off, a 
mufiled peal of bells was rung from the tower of St 
Mary's Cathedral ; and on the public buildings of the 
city, flags were hoisted half-mast high. All along the 
route, numerous spectators lined the streets, and in the 
vicinity of St Giles' a large crowd had assembled. 
Inside the cliurch was an immense congregation of 
waiting worshippers, the silence only broken from time 
to time by the muffled stroke of the great bell tolling 
in the tower. On the arrival of the cortege at the 
church, the cofhn, covered with wreaths of flowers, was 
carried shoulder-high up the choir to the ancient 
chancel, and placed in front of the communion-table, 
with the foot to the east. As the solemn procession 

372 MEMOIR. 

entered the holy fane which the patriotism of the 
deceased had so beautified and adorned, the whole 
assembled congregation rose to their feet, while the 
low pealing of the organ filled the aisles. The Rev. 
Dr Lees then proceeded with an appropriate service, 
strikingly suggestive of the solemn rites which the old 
cathedral walls had witnessed in earlier times, this 
being doubtless the first public funeral ceremony 
observed within; St Giles' since the date of the Revolu- 
tion. Its occurrence on this occasion was singularly 
befitting, as being the last honours paid to the remains 
of one who had lovingly restored to the nation its 
metropolitan church in all its original magnificence and 

The service over, the funeral procession was re-formed ; 
and on its way to the Waverley Station, whence the 
remains were to be conveyed by rail to Peebles, the 
cortege passed through great crowds of spectators 
assembled on the Mound and Princes Street, and in 
the vicinity of the railway station. On arriving at 
Peebles, the funeral party was joined by the Magistrates 
and Council of that burgh, with many others in their 
public or private capacity, and proceeded to the St 
Andrew's churchyard, about a mile from the town. 
The bell was tolled from the old church steeple; 
the shops were shut, and the blinds of the houses 
drawn ; and all along the route, men and women and 
children had everywhere come out to witness the 
funeral of a townsman of whom the community of 
Peebles have reason long to be proud. As the pro- 
cession passed within a few yards of the house in 
which he and his brother Robert had been bom more 
than eighty years before, it was impossible to avoid 


being struck by the contrasting circumstances of that 
time and the present. It was exactly seventy years 
since he had left his native place, with his parents, a 
poor boy, departing thence in misfortune and distress ; 
and now his remains were being brought thither amid 
the regrets of a grateful nation, and honoured by the 
personal sympathies of his country's sovereign. 

The secluded churchyard of St Andrew surrounds the 
ruins of what was once the parish church of Peebles, 
founded by the enterprising Bishop Jocelyn of Glasgow 
in 1 195, and, as its name implies, dedicated to the 
national saint. The church, of which only a frag- 
mentary wall remains, was built of the hard undressed 
stone of the district, with a tower at its west end, 
which had for long stood in tolerable preservation, 
though roofless, ragged, and windowless. Towards the 
close of Dr Chambers's life, he had made preparations 
for strengthening and, so far as was needful for its 
further preservation, restoring this ancient tower, and 
the work had only been begun a few weeks before his 
decease. The workmen had suspended their labours on 
the day of the funeral; but as the company approached 
the churchyard, and saw the old tower encaged in its 
scaffolding of wood-work, with the other evidences of 
building operations lying around, it seemed as if the 
notable activities of the deceased had not quite died 
with his death, but were still to be prolonged on the 
very site of his grave. The place prepared for the 
reception of his remains, and containing also the dust 
of his father and mother, lies within the space which 
must in ancient times have been included within the 
precincts of the now dilajjidated church. When the 
coffin had been borne to the grave, and placed ready 

374 MEMOIR. 

for interment, the Rev. Dr Lees read a {^.w passages of 
Scripture, and oftered up a touching and impressive 
prayer, in the course of which he thanked God for the 
long and useful life which had been granted to him 
whom they had now brought to the place of burial, for 
the honour which had been bestowed upon him, and, 
above all, for the good which he had been able to do in 
this world for the benefit of others. The sun shone 
down brightly on the throng of mourners as they stood 
uncovered beside the open grave, listening to the 
solemn words that alone broke the noonday stillness. 
In a few minutes the simple rites were over, dust 
returned to dust, and ashes to ashes, and he to 
whom were now paid the last obsequies of earth was 
left to his long repose, overshadowed by the green hills 
of his native valley, and almost within sound of the 
silver Tweed. 

On the following Sunday, further public reference 
was made in St Giles' Cathedral to the death of Dr 
Chambers. The Rev. Archibald Scott, D.D., minister 
of St George's parish, Edinburgh, had been appointed 
by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to 
preach before the Lord High Commissioner and the 
members of Assembly on the morning of that day. 
The preacher chose for his text, Psalm xvii. 15 : * As for 
me, I will behold thy face in righteousness ; I shall be 
satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness ; ' and at the 
close of his discourse spoke as follows, in allusion to the 
death of Dr Chambers : 

* We surely make no descent from the solemn themes on 
which we have been meditating, when, ere we close, we 
desire to recall to your affectionate remembrance him to 


whose munificence we owe this ancient building, which has 
again been dedicated to the holiest of uses. He too, having 
liberally served his day, was called away before his eyes 
could see the completion of his last and perhaps most 
cherished work. Indeed, were there no truth in such a text 
as ours, there would be bitter satire, and not melting pathos, 
in the fact that all the use he personally got of that on 
which he spent his treasure, was the celebration in it of his 
funeral obsequies. From such an incident might there 
be drawn the mocking conclusion that life is vanity. But 
life is never vanity, nor is the world worthless to any one 
who really tries to do on earth some unselfish and worthy 
work. The man whose memory we desire to cherish did 
not despise the world ; but, as a true man should do, he 
tried to use and make the most of it. He endeavoured to 
improve it, and make it a scene of more elevated happiness 
to himself and to all around him, and to all who should 
come after him ; and no one shall say that he tried in vain. 
His example of patient, earnest, and victorious struggle, in 
which he rose from poverty to opulence, and from obscurity 
to the highest service and honour which his city could 
bestow ; his veneration for his country's story, the plea- 
sure which he took in her very stones leading him to 
rescue from out misuse, and to render worthy of its sacred 
object, this great historic fane, would be themselves a 
precious legacy ; while his activities as a public man, and 
especially that stream of pure and healthy literature, of 
useful information, which he helped to send into every land 
and nearly every home in which the English tongue is 
spoken, are surely results which make this life of o\\\% 
worth living to achieve. Bravely he did the work which 
his hand found to do ; fearlessly he took the good which 
God provided ; and now, having had his happy turn, and 
having fulfilled his hour — sooner, indeed, than we had 
wished — he has cheerfully given place to others who follow. 
Touched by the solemn lesson which his dying has im- 
parted to the dedication of his offering, let us begin or carry 

376 MEMOIR. 

on our work for our day and jijeneration in the unselfish 
spirit of those who by Christ do believe in God, and who, 
not having received the earthly promises, if God so ordain 
are willing to die in faith— confessing that we are strangers 
and pilgrims on the earth, and desiring a better country, 
that is, a heavenly.' 

The career of the two brothers, William and Robert 
Chambers, has been set forth with such interesting and 
minute detail in the foregoing chapters of this work, 
that not much remains to be added by way of incident. 
It may not, however, be out of place to give here 
some particulars as to the personal habits and character 
of the two men, more especially of those qualities of 
mind and disposition which rendered their lifelong 
partnership and co-operation of so much advantage to 
themselves and to the public, A high degree of literary 
ability is rarely found associated in the same person with 
serviceable business habits ; and this, not necessarily 
from any fundamental inequality of mind between the 
man of business and the man of letters, but mainly 
because of the very opposite lines of thought which 
they respectively cultivate, and of which the tendency 
in each is to become habitual. Both pursuits, as in 
the case of Grote, may be followed by the same indi- 
vidual within certain lines ; but the essential elements 
requisite to high achievement in either department of 
effort, would almost appear to be, as a rule, mutu- 
ally exclusive. Burns was a brilliant poet, but an 
indifferent farmer; the Ettrick Shepherd could charm 
the soul away into Fairyland, but he could not keep 
business embarrassments from his door ; Rogers was a 


prosperous banker, but only a mediocre writer of verses. 
Among the higher names in literature, Scott to a 
very considerable extent possessed the rare conjunction 
in himself; but even he, while eminently successful as 
an author, greatly miscalculated in his commercial 
projects, and suffered accordingly. Whether William 
and Robert Chambers would, apart from each other, 
have risen to the height which, together, as authors and 
fellow-publishers they attained to, is perhaps an idle 
question; but there can be no reasonable doubt that 
much of the material success and prosperity of both 
was due to the extremely happy combination which 
their respective types of mind and character enablqd 
them to form. 

In personal appearance the two brothers were not 
much alike. William was about the middle size, thin, 
muscular, and wiry; Robert slightly taller, and of a 
fuller and more sanguine habit. Both were men of 
marked appearance, more especially the younger, and 
it was no uncommon thing for strangers to turn and 
look after Robert Chambers in the street, certain 
that he, though unkno\\Ti to them, was no ordinary 
individual. In youth, William was dark in hair and 
complexion ; Robert of a fairer type, with brown 
hair; but at quite an early period of their lives their 
hair was tinged with "white, and became wholly or 
nearly so before they had reached the age of fifty. 
This, however, in no way marked any premature decay 
either of mental or bodily energy ; for Robert lived to 
within a little of his seventieth year, and William 
reached his eighty-fourth, both continuing their literary 
labours almost to the last. 

In the personal habits and mental characteristics of 

378 MEMOIR. 

the two brothers, there were, with certain points of 
resemblance, almost as many points of departure as 
in their personal appearance. William, in early and 
middle life, was a man of quiet and reserved habits, 
not caring to mix largely with his fellows, devoting all 
his energies of mind and body to his business and its 
concerns. Robert, while not less industrious and 
painstaking in his own sphere of labour, lived, upon the 
whole, a freer and larger life, was courted by society 
and mingled readily in its enjoyments, kept a hospitable 
table and was frequently at the tables of others. 
William was inclined to be somewhat unyielding in 
his business relations, while his own sterling integrity 
and unvarying self-control tended to make him 
but little indulgent towards the faults or weaknesses 
of others ; yet upon occasion he could show real 
kindness, and in private was known to do many 
generous actions of which the world knew nothing, 
Robert was not less upright in all his relations of life, 
but was more ready to evince consideration for the 
mistakes or misfortunes of others, benevolence being 
one of the most striking traits in his character. 
William was a man of business first, a man of letters 
afterwards. Indeed, his efforts in literature may be 
regarded as originally somewhat of an accident of his 
calling as printer and bookseller ; he found it con- 
venient and profitable to provide in this manner work 
for his own press, and he followed out the practice with 
characteristic perseverance and aptitude, till in a few 
years he achieved both facility and success in the use of 
the pen. Had he, instead of having been apprenticed 
to an Edinburgh bookseller, become indentured to the 
grocer in Tolbooth Wynd, Leith, who sent him sadly 


away as being too small and weak for the duties 
assigned, it is just possible that, while he could hardly 
have failed, from his splendid business qualities, to have 
risen to the first rank of merchants in that ancient port, 
he might never have sought to pen anything more endur- 
ing than business advices and bills of lading. Robert, 
no matter in what position of life he might have been 
placed, would have drifted into literature. He was essen- 
tially a literary man, loving learning and books for their 
own sake, and endowed with an amazing versatility of 
genius and an equally amazing capacity for work. It 
was, therefore, the elements of power, the existing poten- 
tialities, which these two remarkable brothers possessed 
between them — each with his own individual faculties, and 
these differing not so much in kind as in degree — that, 
when welded together by a common interest, enabled 
them to execute a series of labours, and to effect a suc- 
cession of triumphs, which have rendered their names 
conspicuous as publishers and producers of popular 
literature. Each had precisely what the other required 
to give the requisite force and stability to their under- 
takings; and the combination of their resources was, as 
we shall see, effected at the very time when their united 
efforts were destined to be most serviceable to both. 

A fuller consideration of the personal character- 
istics of the two brothers will bring out the above 
features more clearly. Both were men of unwearying 
diligence, but the industry of each was variously 
exemplified. William, as has been already indicated, 
and as may be gathered from his own account 
of his early privations and struggles, was a man 
of formal and exact habits, somewhat reserved in 
manner, who in business hours allowed nothing to stand 

38o MEMOIR. 

in the way of the work upon which he might he 
engaged, and who carried out all his operations with 
systematic, almost mechanical precision. This, indeed, 
was one of the valuable secrets of his success. 
He never put off till to-morrow what he could do to- 
day ; and whatever he undertook to do, he did to his 
very best, and expected every one about him to do the 
same. In the preparation of his articles for the press, 
he did not put much stress upon mere literary form ; 
his chief object was, to have something definite to say, 
and to say it as clearly and tersely as possible. With 
him, literary grace was a secondary matter; lucidity, 
the primary. When engaged upon any bit of literary 
work, he allowed his whole mind to become engrossed 
in it. In preparing his manuscript for the press, or 
revising his proofs, he would rally his thoughts to the 
best mode of expression by muttering to himself, at 
times rising from his chair and walking about the 
room, still continuing his half-audible remarks, until 
the expression or idea he might be in search of 
occurred to him, when he would hastily return to 
his desk, resume his seat, dash down the words 
that were required, and proceed with his task as 
before. If similarly engaged, as he often was, in 
the evenings in his own house, however much en- 
grossed he might be in the work before him, the 
moment the clock struck the hour of nine, down 
dropped his pen, in went the stopper into his ink-glass, 
and the whole thing was set aside and apparently 
forgotten for the night. The supper-tray was then 
brought in, the meal being of the simplest kind — 
generally only a few biscuits, with the ingredients of a 
single glass of toddy. These he partook of, chatting 


pleasantly and happily the while to whoever might 
be with him ; and by ten o'clock he was in bed, 
appearing as regularly next morning at the breakfast 
table at eight o'clock. Such was the simple tenor of 
his daily habits from year to year. 

But while not given to much festivity either in his own 
house or abroad, he was exceedingly hap[)y to have at 
his table from time to time such friends as Peter 
Fraser, with his inimitable drolleries ; James Ballantine, 
author of * Ilka blade o' grass,' and other fine lyrics ; 
and Sheriff (Jordon, of versatile notoriety. On such 
occasions, Dr Chambers exhibited a wealth of geniality 
and bonhomie which those who knew him only in his 
business hours would scarcely have expected. He was 
an admirable racon/eur of Scotch stories, and could sing 
with spirit and expression some of our old Scotch songs, 
such as ' The Ewie wi' the crookit horn,' * Maggie 
Lauder,' and the like. Or if an impromptu dance were 
got up, he would foot it with the best. In later years 
he was in terms of intimate friendship with Dean 
Ramsay, and gave that genial divine not a {qw of the 
telling anecdotes which have drawn tears of laughter 
from many a reader of the Reminiscences. To visitors 
his manner was homely and genial, and left upon them 
the impression of a man who had a warm and generous 
heart behind the transparent barrier of a slight out- 
ward reserve. 

A very pleasing feature in his character was his 
love of domestic animals, especially of dogs. He and 
his wife had in succession more than one canine pet, 
and he was never tired of watching their peculiarities 
and habits, encouraging their gambols, and narrating 
their feats gf wisdom and trickery to his friends. Of 


382 MEMOIR. 

more than one of them he has left some record in 
the pages of Chambers^ Journal ; and their death, in 
one or two cases, caused him more real pain than he 
would probably have cared to make known. A donkey, 
which answered to the name of Donald, and which he 
kept at Glenormiston, was also a subject of much 
interest to him, and the idiosyncrasies of this long- 
eared friend afforded him on one occasion matter 
for a sprightly and amusing paper. 

William Chambers's life was, in the main, one of 
arduous and unremitting labour. The habits which he 
had acquired in early years remained in part with him to 
the last. For instance, he always ate his food hastily — 
it might almost be said, bolted it; a relic, doubtless, 
of the time when he worked sixteen hours a day, and 
allowed himself only a quarter of an hour for his meals. 
Again, when he took a holiday anywhere, he generally 
combined work with it, in the sense that he almost 
invariably made his experiences, whether at home or 
on the continent, the subject of one or more papers, 
and sometimes of an occasional volume. UtiHty was 
the beginning and end of all his occupations, whether 
of work or pleasure. Even in his reading of books, 
his early habits of incessant industry were present. 
He usually read with pencil and note-book in hand, and 
seldom perused Avith care any volume which he did 
not intend to make some special use of, either in the 
form of a review for the Joiir7ial, or as a source of 
information on some subject which he had otherwise 
in hand. As an exception to this, the Waverley 
Novels may be noted. These he was fond of reading 
time and again, and he has been heard to remark, 
what is worthy of mention, that he looked upon the 


writing of these novels as a lost art, in respect that 
Scott was able, in a degree not since equalled, to com- 
bine in the same book at once a romance and a history. 
He took little interest in books of verse, and exhibited 
at no time any great taste even for the higher 
English poets. But any work relating to the history 
of Scotland, especially to the history of its ancient 
families, would at all times command his interest, and 
he made good use of his reading in these departments 
by contributions to the yipwr/za/ and otherwise. 

By the outside world, he was in some respects never 
quite understood. Many of those who came in contact 
with him in his business capacity, did not fully appre- 
ciate the extraordinary earnestness of purpose which he 
displayed, the sharp and, as it might seem, peremptory 
method in which he disposed of matters of detail 
over which others might have been inclined to waste 
hours of debate. With a kind of intuitive perception, 
he saw quickly and clearly the line which he ought, 
in any given set of circumstances, to follow ; and 
the success which had attended his early eftbrts gave 
him a degree of confidence in his own judgment, which 
to others less clear-headed and decisive might seem 
slightly overweening. But any appearance of ostenta- 
tion or haughtiness which might characterise him at 
such times was merely superficial, and was born of the 
circumstance that he never could see any advantage 
in wasting a great many words over matters which 
admitted of immediate settlement, and that he was 
strongly alive to the fact that a great deal of what 
passes both in individuals and public bodies as busi- 
ness activity, is mere idle fuss and palaver. On 
the other hand, those connected with him in the 

384 MEMOIR. 

operations, whether literary or otherwise, of his own 
business estabhshment, found him at all times most 
willing to listen to suggestions, even upon his own 
plans, and if these suggestions were feasible and useful, 
he would without hesitation adopt them. For instance, 
in his later years each of his literary compositions was 
submitted to his nephew, Mr Robert Chambers, on 
whose judgment he had reliance, and to many of whose 
suggestions he readily deferred. He was, moreover, 
warmly appreciative of all work that was well done 
by others, and, with the heartiness of one who knows 
and understands how much literary or artistic effort 
is stimulated by the approval of one qualified to judge, 
was ever ready, in a few kindly words of praise, to 
express his satisfaction with any well-executed task. 
At the same time, he expected his ultimate instructions 
to be attended to with the assiduity which marked all 
his own operations — an assiduity, indeed, which he never 
relaxed, until old age and increasing bodily infirmities 
rendered such relaxation absolutely necessary. 

His powers as a writer having developed late, and 
the field of his purely literary and intellectual attain- 
ments having been all along somewhat circumscribed, 
it is difficult to see how William Chambers could have 
accomplished, as a pioneer of popular literature, what 
he actually lived to achieve, but for the fact, as 
already mentioned, that he found in his brother 
Robert precisely those mental and literary qualities 
which his own individual acquirements desiderated. 
The brothers both possessed, in a high degree, 
that invaluable accomplishment in any sphere of 
effort, the power of originating work ; and while 
William, in founding Chambers's Journal, truly diag- 


nosed, and skilfully provided for, the public wants in 
the way of readable and instructive literature, it may 
be safely averred that that Journal could scarcely have 
continued to hold the ground which it immediately 
gained, but for the fortunate circumstance that Robert 
had from the beginning enlivened its pages by his 
regular contributions, and that at the end of three 
months he entered into partnership with his brother 
for the joint-conduct of the magazine. No jjossible 
combination of individual powers could have been 
more happy, or, in the end, more successful. The 
one brother was the complement of the other. For 
all business requirements, William's industry, frugality, 
prudence, and foresight were eminently suitable ; while 
for the literary necessities of the project, Robert's 
versatility and elegance as a writer, his diligence in 
collecting and working-up stray materials, his percep- 
tion of what was suited to the popular taste in history 
and poetry, science and art, rendered him an admirable 
coadjutor in the conduct of the Journal uj^on which 
the whole fortune of the brothers was now staked. 

It must not be forgotten that when, in 1832, Cham- 
bers's Journal was originated, the two brothers were 
neither weak in their pecuniary resources, nor meagre 
in their literary equipment for the work. William, 
it is true, had not up to that time written anything 
of much note, although he had exhibited his literary 
industry in his Book of Scotland and in the Gazdteer; 
but he had for over a do/en years successfully con- 
ducted his business of bookseller and printer, and had 
already, as the result of economy and hard work, 
gathered not a few golden eggs into his basket. On 
the other hand, Robeit, while he had also carried on 

386 MEMOIR. 

profitably for a similar period the business of book- 
selling, had at the same time made for himself no 
mean reputation as an author, and had received con- 
siderable sums of money for the copyright of his several 
works — for the Traditions of Edinburgh alone, between 
three and four hundred pounds. His literary achieve- 
ments between 1822 and 1832 have not indeed hitherto 
had full justice done to them. ' Literary composi- 
tion,' as William says elsewhere in this volume, ' came 
upon Robert like an inspiration at nineteen years of age.' 
This was in 1821, in which year the younger brother 
began the periodical called The Kaleidoscope, the most 
of which he personally wrote, William executing the 
work of printer and publisher. The little venture was 
not successful, and scarcely perhaps deserved to be; 
for, while it contained many clever and spirited contri- 
butions which clearly gave promise of future literary 
power, its contents were on the whole jejime and 
amateurish. In 1822, Robert Chambers issued his 
first book, Illustrations of the Author of Waverley ; 
a somewhat bold attempt on the part of a youth of 
twenty to solve the enigma of the Great Unkno\\Ti. 
The list of his published works during the next twelve 
years is certainly startling, and brings into prominence 
the extraordinary literary and intellectual precocity of 
the author. In succession to the Illustrations, pub- 
lished in 1822, he wrote the Traditions of Edinburgh, 
2 vols., which appeared in 1823-24 ; The Fires in Edin- 
burgh, in 1824; Walks in EdinburgJi, in 1825; 
Popular Rhymes of Scotland, i vol., and the Picture of 
Scotland, 2 vols., in 1826 ; History of the Rebellion of 
1745, 2 vols., and the Rebellions of 1638-1660, 2 vols., 
in 1829; Rebellions <?/ 1689-17 15, i vol., and Ballads 


and Songs, 3 vols., in 1829; the Life of James I. of 
England, 2 vols., in 1830; Scottish Jests and Anecdotes, 
in 1832; Reekiana, in 1S33 ; the Biographical Dic- 
tionary of Eminent Scotsmen, 4 vols., 1832-34; and 
Jacobite Memoirs, in 1834. That is, in all, twenty- 
five volumes, many of them of great literary merit and 
permanent historical value, written within the space 
of twelve years, by a young man between the twentieth 
and thirty-second year of his age, and during the 
intervals when not occupied at the back of his counter 
as bookseller. In authorship so youthful, so courageous, 
and so prolific, the annals of English literature can 
hardly parallel the achievement. 

The starting of Chambers's Journal, involving at once 
a great outlay and heavy pecuniary responsibilities, 
was certainly a bold venture on the part of William 
Chambers — so bold, indeed, that Robert, while he 
promised his brother all the literary assistance in his 
power, was disposed to dissuade him from it. Yet the 
venture was by no means what it was long popularly 
and vaguely supposed to be, merely a chance effort by 
two penniless youths, which, by strange good luck, 
took root and flourished, nobody could tell how. Luck, 
in the popular acceptation, had something to do with 
its success, just as luck, in the same sense, had to do 
with the success of The Lay of the Last A/ instrel and the 
romance of Waverlcy. But in both cases, success was 
due to solid causes ; and just as these and other works 
of Scott may be regarded as having grow^n, by a process 
of evolution, out of his earlier study of Border ballads 
and historical antiquities, so Chambers's Journal wzs the 
natural product of a course of literary eftbrt which 
amply qualified its projectors to meet the public taste 

388 MEMOIR. 

for popular literature. They were not a couple of young 
men trying to open the oyster of the world with no more 
experience of its ways than is to be learned within the 
walls of a school or college. They had lived in it for 
thirty years, and learned to cope with its difficulties ; their 
school had been in great part the trying but salutary 
one of hard experience ; they had both travelled on foot 
over nearly every county in Scotland — William for his 
Gazetteer, and Robert for his Picture of Scotland — and 
in this way must not only have gathered large collec- 
tions of popular lore, but acquired valuable insight 
into the popular tastes in the matter of literature. 
These experiences could scarcely fail to be of advantage 
to them when they projected and issued Chambers's 
Journal. William's object was clearly stated in his 
preface to the first number; it was to * take advantage 
of the universal appetite for instruction which at present 
exists,' and 'to supply that appetite with food of the 
best kind.' The success which from the first attended 
the magazine, is the best proof that the right kind of 
literary fare had been provided. 

At the end of the fourteenth number it was resolved 
between the brothers that Robert should cease to 
conduct a separate business, and that the energies of 
both should be concentrated on the Journal, Robert 
taking upon himself the chief duties of editor. William 
has frankly stated that the permanent hold on the 
public mind which the Journal fortunately obtained, 
was undoubtedly owing, in a very great degree, to the 
leading articles from the pen of his brother. His own 
duties lay mainly in the commercial administration of 
the business. This apportionment of labour, by which 
the stronger faculties of each were duly exercised, was 


eminently qualified to give solidity to their joint 
undertakings. Personally, Robert had, as he writes to 
a friend, * hardly anything to do with business,' and 
this quite suited his studious habits, enabling him 
to devote his whole powers to literary labour. In 
addition to his regular contributions to the Journal, 
he, as mentioned in previous chapters, projected 
various important works published by the firm, and 
found time, besides, to write many volumes dealing 
with social, historical, and scientific topics, a detailed 
estimate of which does not come within the scope of 
the present sketch. 

From boyhood, Robert Chambers had shown himself 
possessed of high mental powers, with a quick and 
retentive memory.* He was in the habit of reading 

* The following receipt for school-fees and books for William 
and Robert Chambers, when they were aged respectively eleven 
and nine years, and in which the teacher undercharges himself by 
fourpence, is of interest. In the spelling of his name, their 
father formed an exception to the rest of his family. When 
a schoolboy, he had capriciously changed it to Chalmers. His 
sons, on their part, returned to the correct and original spelling of 

Mk Chalmers, Merchant, Peebles, 

To James Si-oane. 

For Education to his sons Messrs William and Robert, from Martin- 
mas 1810 to Whitsunday 1811, deducting 2 months for each during 

said time, for absence on account of bad health ^o 13 4 

Ditto I quarter to Mr William at the evening school in Winter 050 

For a copy of the Rudiments to Mr Robert on 4th October 1810. 013 

For Ditto to Mr William on 31st January o i 3 

For Grammatical Exercises to William on 30th April 013 

;Ci I 9 

Mr Robert from Whitsunday to Martinmas 181 1 o 10 o 

(,\ II 9 

Pbebles, ^th October 1811, — Received payment. 


390 MEMOTR. 

every bit of print that came into his hands ; and instead 
of joining in the more active games of boyhood, would 
be content to sit for liours in some retired part of the 
house, reading by himself At quite an early age, he 
had read a considerable number of the classics of 
English hterature. As he grew up, his love of books 
and learning increased with his years, and at an age 
when most professional men have hardly completed 
their education, he was already the author of several 
popular works. Beginning business for himself in a 
humble way at the age of sixteen years, he carried into 
it his general habits of industry. The books which he 
kept contain a note of every day's sales, however 
small ; each book being named, with the price he 
received for it, and the profit which he had on each 
particular transaction. In literary matters, likewise, he 
was a diligent note-taker; and in the course of his 
many rambles over Scotland, he lost no opportunity, 
as his note-books show, of jotting down all available 
memoranda of old traditions, superstitious usages, 
popular rhymes and proverbs, and folk-lore generally. 
He was in the habit also of sketching any picturesque 
old ruin, place of historical interest, or remarkable 
natural feature of the districts through which he passed ; 
and in this way he gained original and curious materials 
for many of his better-known books. In his younger 
years, he wrote a good deal of verse, much of which 
is of a semi-humorous kind, having reference to 
some social or domestic incident ; the best of these 
being his 'Annuitant's Answer,' written in reply to 
George Outram's well-kno\vn song, 'The Annuity.' 
He had likewise a distinct lyrical vein, which he 
might have cultivated with sfood result. This is shown 


in the beautiful lines * To the Evening Star,' printed 
in this volume (pp. 178-79), as also in his spirited and 
patriotic poem * To Scotland,' beginning : 

Scotland ! the land of all I love, 

The land of all that love me ; 
Land whose green sod my youth has trod, 

Whose sod shall lie above me ! 
Hail, country of the brave and good, 

Hail, land of song and story ; 
Land of the uncorrupted heart, 

Of ancient faith and glory ! * 

It is not astonishing to find that one so imbued with 
love of country, looked back with a kind of poetical 
regret upon the ill-fated Stuarts, and their struggles to 
regain their lost sovereignty. Without approving of 
the attempts of the Jacobites, he yet was warmly 
attracted by their heroism and self-devotion, and 
followed up with enthusiastic diligence all traces of the 
last two rebellions in Scotland, the history of which he 
has so graphically told. To this enthusiasm in the 
lost cause, he was indebted for one of the warmest 
friendships of his life, namely, his intimacy with the 
family of Sir Peter Threipland of Fingask, where he 
was a frequent visitor, and a great favourite. t 

Robert Chambers's literary habits, as may be inferred 
from the amount and quality of his work, were of 
the most assiduous kind. He was so constituted 
that remarkably little sleep sufficed for him when in 
health, seldom more than five out of the twenty-four 
hours being so spent. He read extensively in all 

* Podical Remains of Kobat Chambers, LL.D. (Edin. 18S3). 
+ See The Thyeiplands of Fin^ask : A Tatnily Manoir, by 
R. Chambers (Edin. 18S0). 

392 MEMOIR. 

departments of literature, and was in the habit of 
making copious notes or extracts, either for present 
purposes, or as materials for future use, scarcely a day 
passing without some addition hcing made to his stores of 
manuscript. His method of work was, upon the whole, 
regular and systematic. He breakfasted at eight in the 
morning, and afterwards wrote in his own house till one 
o'clock, at which hour he visited the office, saw his 
brother, spent a few hours in the disposal of manu- 
scripts from contributors, or other business that might 
fall to be transacted by him, and then walked for an 
hour or two if the weather were favourable. After 
dinner, when not entertaining company or dining abroad, 
he was generally in his study again by eight o'clock, 
when he continued his work till about one o'clock next 
morning. Notwithstanding his late hour of retiring, he 
was generally awake early, when he would remain in bed 
reading for an hour or so, always having some favourite 
volume by him for this purpose — frequently Horace, 
whose odes delighted him, and almost the whole of 
which he had by heart. 

But while there was system in this method of work, 
there was none of the monotonous regularity with 
which Southey, for instance, performed his literary 
tasks. Robert Chambers's social instincts were strong, 
hence his labours were delightfully blended with the 
pleasures of friendship, and the light and love of his 
own fireside. He was fond of music ; and his wife 
being gifted with fine musical faculties, which were 
inherited by her daughters, scarcely an evening passed 
without its little family concert — wife and eldest daughter 
at the harp and piano, and the father on the flute. 
These musical evenings in Robert Chambers's house 


formed a feature of ?",<linburgh society for the time ; and 
it was no uncommon thing to find gathered in his draw- 
ing-room the chief representative men of literature and 
law, science and art, in the northern metropolis, as 
well as the humbler ' waifs and strays ' of artistic and 
literary life. Visitors from all parts of the world were 
at all times welcome at No. i Doune Terrace, and 
with these might be seen commingled some of the 
most notable men of their time — Lord Jeffrey, Lord 
Cockburn, Christopher North, Lockharl, the Ettrick 
Shepherd, De Quincey, Dr Moir ('Delta'), Professor 
Aytoun, George and Andrew Combe, Lord Ivory, 
Sir Adam Ferguson, Patrick Robertson, besides many 
noted Edinburgh wits and conversationalists who 
'had their day,' and, as is mostly the fate of such 
ephemera, have 'ceased to be.' He also carried on 
an immense correspondence with literary and scientific 
men, and left behind him large collections of letters, 
many of them of great interest. These collections 
embrace almost every name of note in the world of 
literature and science from 1825 to 187 1. They contain 
long manuscript notes on the Traditions of Edinburgh, 
with various letters, in the well-known hand of the 
Author of Waverley ; letters from the Ettrick Shepherd,* 
Southey, John Calt, Allan Cunningham, De Quincey, 

* The following note from liic Sheplicnl is delightfully charac- 
teristic : 

Altrive, Scf'ttmber iS, 1835. 
Dear Rohert — Voii know or shnulJ know that my literary pride is very 
easily hurt, hut that is no reason wliy we should not be friends as usual. I 
believe you have not .1 greater admirer in Scotland than myself, but I will not 
succumb to you that any man is superior to mc as a poet. I introduce to you a 
young countryman of our own— Mr Dickson^who s.iys he cannot leave 
Scotland without first seeing your face. — Yours ever, 


394 MEMOTR. 

Carlyle, Macaulay, Darwin, Sir Charles Lyell, Sir 
Roderick Murchison, and many others whose names 
are now set in the roll of fame. These letters evince 
the catholicity of his opinions, the friendship and esteem 
with which he was regarded by his contemporaries, and 
the wide and general scope of his faculties, which enabled 
him to pursue intelligently even studies that naturally 
seemed far apart. If his health broke down at an 
earlier period of life than was the case with his brother, 
it must be remembered that the younger of the two 
men was intrusted with that department of work which 
is the most exacting and exhaustive, and that he 
engaged in that work with an energy and persistence 
which few men have equalled. 

Such is a brief outline of the habits and character of 
the two men who founded Chambers^s Journal, and 
whose names have long been associated together in 
almost every country where the English language is 
spoken. The trials and struggles of their early years, the 
success which at a later period rewarded their eftbrts, 
the munificence with which the elder brother spent a 
portion of his wealth in purposes of public utility, and 
the valuable contributions to literature and science 
which were made by the younger — all these are 
matters of history, reflecting honour upon the men 
themselves and upon the country which gave them 
birth. It is not too much to say that even in the far 
future the hearts of the lowly will be cheered, and 
the hopes of the aspiring strengthened, by the story of 
these two Scottish brothers— William and Robert 


Aberdeen, Earl of, re-opens St Gilei' 
Cathedral, 366. 

Adam, Robert, 351. 

Ailie Giiroy, by VV. Chambers, 356. 

Alexander, Jamie, street porter, 112. 

Alison, Rev. Archibald, 79. 

Ancient Sea-Margins, by R. 
Chambers, 283. 

Anecdotes — Laird Baird, the Coven- 
anter, 8 ; Dr Dalgliesh, parish 
minister of Peebles, 11; Willie 
Paterson's boots, 12 ; Tammas and 
the strolling-players, 13 ; Candle 
Nell, 14, 15; daft Jock Grey, 18; 
Laird Grieve, 19, 20; Drummer 
Will, 22; Miss Ritchie's, 23; Tam 
Grieve, the joiner, 24 ; Tam Fleck 
and7oj'c///«j, 25 : William Chambers, 
weaver, 26, 27 : Margaret Kerr and 
the parish minister, 28, 29 ; Andrew 
Gemmclls, the beggar, 33 ; Jamie 
Hall, the stocking-maker, 38 ; Kirsty 
Cranston and the big words, 40 ; 
James Gray, the burgh teacher, 41 ; 
school punishment, 43 ; the two 
boarders at Sloane's school, 44 ; 
Howey, the assistant at Sloane's 
school, 46; Robbie Ballantyne and 
the Shorter Catechism, 47 ; Jock 
Forsyth punished, 50; the story of 
a military substitute, 61 ; Peter 
Cairns, auctioneer, 81 ; Tammie Tod 
and the sermon, 89 ; a voluntary 
prisoner in thcTolboolh, 102; Jamie 
Alexander, 112; Claverhousc, Vis- 
count Dundee, 128 ; Major Weir, 
128; Deacon Brodie, 129; Pawkie 

Macgouggy, 166; Colli-Gosperado, 
167; Matthewson, the tj-pefounder, 
169 ; Scott's remarks to Lockhart on 
the Traditions 0/ Edinburgh, 206; 
David Bridges, 208 ; James Hogg's 
Festival, 255. 

Arthur's Seat, 127. 

Auvergne. extinct volcanoes of. 314. 

Aytoun, Professor, 303. 

Baker Turnbull, 14. 
Barric's Collection, 50. 
Beaconsfield, Earl of, 352, 353. 
I'eattie, Life of, by Forbes, 302. 
Begg, Mrs, youngest sister of Burns, 

290, 291 ; assisted by Robert 

Chambers, 292. 
Bell, Sir Charles, 281. 
Bell-rock Lighthouse, the, 309. 
Bills, businesses conducted by means 

of, 319. 
Biographical Dictionary 0/ Eminent 

Scotsmen, edited by R. Chambers, 

213, 387- 
Birkbeck Institution founded, 230. 
Bo<'i: 0/ Days, by R. Chambers, 305, 

307 ; effect on author's health, 308. 
Book 0/ Scotland, by W. Chambers, 

22s, 385. 
Bore-stone, the, 127. 
Borough Moor, the, 127. 
Box-beds, the old Scottish, 7. 
Braid Hills, the, 127. 
Brewster, Sir David, optical toy 

invented by, 171. 
Bridges, David, draper, 207, ao8. 
Bright, John, 35a. 



Hrodie, Deacon, story of, 139. 

Burdett, Sir Francis, 302. 

Burdett-Coutts, Baroness, 302. 

Burns, Robert, letter written during 
his last illness, 120 ; Life and 
Works of, by R. Chambers, 290, 291, 
343 ; profits of edition given to the 
Beggs, 292. 

Business rules, three good, 318. 

Cairns, Peter, auctioneer, 80, Si. 

Campbell, Alexander, editor oi Albyn's 
Anthology, 186. 

Campbell, Lady Charlotte, 203. 

Candlemaker Row Festival, 255. 

Carfrae's book auction, 80. 

Carpenter, Dr, 307. 

Carruthers, Dr R., 274. 

Cauper Jock, 15. 

Cave, Edward, 238. 

Chambers, David, brother of William 
and Robert, career of, 332. 

Chambers, Ephraim, his Cyclopedia 
or Universal Dictionary, 270. 

Chambers, James, father of William 
and Robert, begins business, 27 ; 
marriage to Jean Gibson, 36 ; affects 
the study of music and astronomy, 
10, 37 ; failure of handloom weav- 
ing, 59 ; begins business as a draper, 
59 ; literary tastes of, 64 ; cheated 
by French prisoners, 71 ; failure in 
business, 72 ; settlement in Edin- 
burgh, 75 ; want of knowledge of 
the world, 77 ; accepts a situation 
as manager of a salt manufactory, 
87 ; too independent for a situation, 
118; views as to the upbringing of 
children, 119; unfortunate lawsuit, 
222 ; death, 224, 389. 

Chambers, James, brother of William 
and Robert, 171 ; death of, 238. 

Chambers, Robert, birth of, at 
Peebles, 5 ; autobiographical notes 
and descriptions, 6-10; strange con- 
genital malformation, 39 ; account 
of his early schooldays, 49-56; early 
education and reading, 51-58 ; 
removal to Edinburgh, 87; begins 

to compose verses, 125 : studies 
the old buildings in the Old Town, 
126 ; knowledge of the history of 
Old Edinburgh, 128 : letter relating 
his early struggles in Edinburgh, 
129 ; too poor to go to the university, 
131 : acts as a clerk, 132; discharged 
as incompetent, 133 ; begins business 
as a bookseller, 135 ; his home in 
Leith Walk, 138 ; literary composi- 
tion, 170 ; edits the Kaleidoscope, 
171 ; habits and occupation, 180-182 ; 
introduction to Sir Walter Scott, 
182-184 ; second interview with 
Scott, 188 ; Scott's commission to 
transcribe poems, 189; removal to 
India Place, 189 ; his Illustrations 
of the Author of Waverley, 190; 
a love affair, 196; the Traditions of 
Edinburgh, 197-201 ; Scott's visit 
along with Lockhart, to, 206 ; popu- 
lar account of Edinburgh fires, 210; 
Walks in Edinburgh, 210; Popular 
Rhymes of Scotland, 210; Picture 
of Scotlatid, 211 ; his great literary 
industry, 212 ; his History of the 
Rebellion of 1745, and other works, 
213, 214; poems for private circula- 
tion, 216, 217 ; letters from Sir 
Walter Scott, 218, 219; joins in 
partnership with his brother, 237 ; 
popularity of his leading articles and 
essays in Chambers's yoiimnl, 239 ; 
life of Scott, 242 ; earnest literary 
labour, 252 ; the writing of a History 
of the British Empire, and History 
of the English Language and 
Literature, 265 ; letter to Hugh 
Miller, 267 ; his work on the Land 
of Burns, 273 ; Cyclopaedia of Eng- 
lish Literatrire projected, 273 ; 
Romantic Scottish Ballads, 276 ; 
his Select Writings, 276 ; residence 
at St Andrews, 2S0 ; elected a mem- 
ber of the Royal Society of Edin- 
burgh, 2S1 ; geological studies, 282; 
Ancient Sea-Margins, 283 ; tract 
on life-assurance, 283 ; visits Swit- 
zerland and Norway, 285, 286 ; Life 



and Works of Bums, ago, 291 ; 
liberality to the sister of Burns, 292; 
visit to the Karoe Islands and Ice- 
land, 294 ; publishes Tracings in 
Iceland and the Faroe Islands, 
295 ; History 0/ Scotland, 295 ; 
Domestic Annals of Scotland, 296 ; 
visit to London, 296 ; becomes a 
member of the Edinburgh Merchant 
Company, 298 ; lecture on Edinburgh 
Merchants and Merchandise of Old 
Times, by, 298 ; edits Forbes' 
Memoirs 0/ a Dankinf; House, 
300; publication of Edinburgh 
Papers, 302 ; sketch of the Old 
Theatre Royal, 303 ; visits America, 
30s ; removal to London, 305 ; the 
Book 0/ Days commenced, 305 ; 
elected a member of the Athena:um 
Club, 306 ; pleasant intercourse with 
London celebrities, 307 ; appointed 
a judge in the International Exhibi- 
tion, 307 ; visit to France and Del- 
glum, 307 ; receives the degree of 
LL.D., 307; taxing nature of the 
work on the Book of Days, 308 ; 
return to St Andrews, 309 ; death 
of his wife and daughter Janet, 309; 
quiet home life, 324; second mar- 
riage, 325; Life of SmolUtt, 325; 
close of literary career, 325 ; views 
on Spiritualism, 326; death of second 
wife, 328 ; visit to England, 329 ; fail- 
ing health, 330; death, 331; funeral, 
332 ; funeral sermon, 333 ; private 
character, 335 ; liberality and gene- 
rosity, 335 ; early love of books, 
337 ; literary character, 339-343 ; 
enormous literary industry, 344 ; 
veneration for Edinburgh anticjuitics, 
350 ; personal appearance, 377 ; the 
two brothers compared, 378, 379; 
Robert's share in starting Chambers's 
Journal, 384, 385 ; his literary and 
intellectual precocity, 386, 387; lit- 
erary habits, 3S9-392 ; friends and 
correspondents, 392-394. 
Chambers, Robert, son of Dr Robert 
Chambers, 357, 3C7-368, 384. 

Chambers, William, birth of, at 
Peebles, 5 ; education and school 
experiences, 40-47 ; Sandy Elder's 
library, 56 ; keeping a note-book, 
58 ; recollections of the French war, 
60 ; Sunday in Peebles, 63, 64 ; 
attends the plays given by the 
French prisoners, 71 ; failure of his 
father, 72 ; removal to Edinburgh, 
73 ; a struggle with poverty, 77 ; 
thinks of trj-ing the book-trade, 80, 
82 ; apprenticed to John Sutherland, 
bookseller, 87 ; removal of his family 
to Joppa Pans, 87 : trying experi- 
ences, 91-95 ; attempts at self-educa- 
tion, 107 ; scientific studies, 111-115; 
close of his apprenticeship, 139; 
starts in business, 148 ; early 
struggles, 150-155; writes an account 
of David Ritchie, the original of the 
Black Dwarf, 157 ; purchase of a 
printing-press, 157 ; produces a 
pocket edition of the Songs of 
burns, 160; opens circulating lib- 
rary, 164 ; writes an account of the 
Scottish Gipsies, 170; prints the 
Kaleidoscope, 171; success in busi- 
ness, and removal to Droughton 
Street, 189; first visit to London, 
200 ; writes the Book of Scotland, 
225 ; assists in writing the Catetteer 
of Scotland, 225 ; severe illness, 227; 
Chamberis Edinburgh Journal 
published, 232 ; great success of, 
234 ; founding of the firm of W. & R. 
Chambers, 237 ; interviews with 
James Hogg, 254 ; issue of Infor- 
mation for tlu i'eople, 264 ; Educa- 
tional Course, 265 ; visit to America, 
303 ; visit to the Netherlands, 265 ; 
the writing of a I'our in Holland 
and the Rhine Countries, 265 ; 
issue of Chambers's Miscellany, 
269 ; Chambers's Eiuycloptrdia pro- 
jected, 269 ; Things as they are in 
America, 303; Sydney Smith, 311 ; 
Miss Mitford, 313; visit to Germany, 
314; interviews with Sir Adam 
Ferguson, 316, 317; three business 



niles, 318 ; losses tlirouRh the Lon- 
don agtincy, 319; presented with the 
freedom of the burgh of Peebles, 
321 ; founding of the Chambers In- 
stitution in Peebles, 321 ; remarks 
on the works issued by W. & R. 
Chambers, 323 ; the virtue of self- 
reliance enforced, 338 ; elected Lord 
Provost of Edinburgh, 322, 348 ; 
scheme of City Improvement, 
348-352 ; presented at Court, 353 ; 
trips in the Pharos, 353-355 ; later 
writings, 356 ; restoration and re- 
opening of St Giles' Cathedral, 
Edinburgh, 357-371 ; failing health, 
362, 363 ; his death, 365 ; previous 
offer of a baronetcy by the Queen, 
365 ; funeral service in St Giles", 
371, 372 ; burial at Peebles, 371-374; 
pulpit references, 369-370, 374-376 ; 
personal appearance, 377 ; literary 
habits, 378-3S1 ; social do., 3S1, 382; 
business do., 382-384; advantages 
of partnership with his brother, 384- 
387 ; causes of the early success of 
Chavihers' s Journal, 387, 388. 

Chambers' s Journal, first publication 
of, 232 ; great success, 234 ; how 
read by the Galloway shepherds, 
245 ; religious persecution, 246 ; con- 
tinued popularity 266 ; essays con- 
tributed by R. Chambers, 341 ; 
causes of its earl^' success, 384-388. 

Clapperton, John, 168. 

Clarinda, the, of Bums, 253. 

Clarke, William, musician, 79. 

Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, 128. 

Clutterbuck, Captain, erroneous con- 
jecture regarding, 193. 

Clyde, Lord, 307. 

Combe, Dr Andrew, 281. 

Combe, George, 281. 

Constable, Archibald, publisher, 183 ; 
letter of thanks from R. Chambers 
to, 185 ; refuses to publish Illustra- 
tions of the AutJior of Waverley, 
192 ; Miscellany published by, 212. 

Cooper Gibson, 14. 

Cornucopia, an Edinburgh journal, 231. 

Coutts & Co., bankers, 301. 
Cunningham, Allan, letter to, from 

R. Chambers, 243 ; reply by, 244. 
Cyclopcrdia of English Literature, 

projected by R. Chambers, 273 ; 

assistance in the preparation of, by 

Dr R. Carruthers, 274. 

Dalgliesh, Rev. Dr, parish minister of 

Peebles, 11 ; reproved by Margaret 

Kerr, 28, 29. 
Dalrymple, John, cloth-merchant, 299. 
Darwin, Charles, on the parallel roads 

of Glenroy, 2S2. 
Denovan. John C, poet, 156. 
Dick, Lady Anne, 203. 
Disraeli, Benjamin, 352, 353. 
Dotnestic Antials of Scotland, the, by 

R. Chambers, 296. 
Douglas, Gavin, his translation of 

Virgil, 53. 
Dowie, Mrs, daughter of R. Chambers, 

306, 331. 
Dredgy, the, 19. 
Drummer Will, 22. 
Ducie, Lord, 297. 

Edge worth, Maria, 311. 

Edinburgh Advertiser, the, 218. 

Edinburgh, Duke of, 352. 

Edinburgh, Old Tolbooth of, 98-107 ; 
Traditions of, by R. Chambers, 
197-209 ; Edinburgh Merchants and 
IMerchandise in Old Times, a lecture 
by R. Chambers, 298 ; papers on, 
by R. Chambers, 302 ; City Im- 
provement Act secured by W. 
Chambers, 322, 350-352 ; old houses, 
34S-350 ; death-rate reduced, 352. 

Elgin, Dowager Countess of, 314. 

Encyclopaedia, CJiambers's, projected, 

Epistle by a Distressed Director, 
poem by R. Chambers, 284. 

Faucher, Leon, 314. 

Ferguson, Sir Adam, 315 ; sketch of 
the career of, 316 ; visit of, to Hall- 
yards with W. Chambers, 317. 



Fielding, value of, as a novelist, 56. 
Findlater, Dr Andrew, acting editor of 

Cluivibers's Encyclopiedia, 269. 
Fingask Castle, 324. 
Fires in Edinburgh, by R. Chambers, 

210, 386. 
Forbes, Rev. Bishop, 215. 
Forbes, Sir William, banker, 301. 
Foulis, Thomas, goldsmith, 299. 
Fratice : Its History and Rii'oliitioiis, 

by W. Chambers, 322, 356. 
Franklin, Benjamin, 169. 
French prisoners, behaviour of, in 

Peebles, 6S-72. 
Frith, Mrs Robert, marriage of, to 

R. Chambers, 325. 
Fyfe, Peter, amateur artist, 163 ; his 

illustration of the Scottish gipsies, 


Galloway, George, poet, 155. 
Gazetteer <i/ Scotland, 225-227, 385, 

Gemmells, Andrew, prototype of Edic 

Ochiltree, 33. 
George IV. in Edinburgh, 182. 
Geysers, the, of Iceland, visited by 

R. Chambers, 295. 
Gibson, Jean, mother of William and 

Robert Chambers, character and 

appearance of, 10, 36. 
Gibsons of Newby, 31. 
Giltillan, Robert, poet, 155. 
Gipsies, an account of the Scottish, by 

W. Chambers, 170. 
Glacial Phenomena, R. Chambers on, 

Gladstone, William, offers a baronetcy 

to W. Chambers, 365. 
Glenormiston, the estate of, 315, 

362-363, 382. 
Glenroy, the parallel ro.ids of, 282. 
GoUi-Gospcrado, a savoury dish, 

Cjranimar-schools, value of, 51. 
CJray, James, teacher, Peebles, 41. 
Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh, 

Grieve, David, of Jedderficid, 30. 

Griffin, Richard, kiodncss of, to W. 
Chambers, 144. 

Hall, MrsS. C, 311. 

Hallyards, house of, 316. 

Hamilton, John, song-writer, 79. 

Hamilton of Inncrwick, 298. 

Hamilton, Thomas, first Earl of 
Haddington, 160. 

Handsel Monday in Peebles, 19. 

Harrison, Lord Provost, 367. 

Hay, William, architect, 364. 

Haystoun, near Peebles, 31. 

Historical Sketch 0/ St Giles' Cathe- 
dral, by W. Chambers, 364. 

History 0/ Peeblesshire, by W. 
Chambers, 322. 

History of the Indian Mutiny, 
Chambers's, 307. 

History 0/ the Rebellion of 1745, by 
R. Chambers, 213. 

Hodgson, Dr W. B., 307. 

Hogg, James, the Ettrick Shepherd, 
his opinion of R. Chambers, 209; 
reminiscences of, 354 ; his Candle- 
maker Row festival, 255 ; monument 
to, in Vale of Yarrow, 263 ; letter to 
R. Chambers, 393. 

Hogmanay in Peebles, 18, 19. 

Holyrood, Sanctuary of, 97, 349. 

Hope, Edward, merchant, 29'> 

Hunt, Leigh, start o( London Journal 
by, 247; letter to, from R. Chambers, 
248; letters from, to R. Chambers, 
250, 293. 

Huxley, Professor, 307. 

Illustrations 0/ the Author of 
Waverley, refused by Constable, 
192 ; first edition printed and pub- 
lished by W. Chambers, 193, 386. 

Information for tlu People, Cham- 
bers's, 264- 

Jacobite Memoirs, by R. Cliambcr!>, 

216, 387. 
Johnson, Samuel, 152. 
Johnstone, John, printer, 2(8. 
Joppa Pans, near Portobellu, 87: the 

!»alt-makcrs of, 117. 



Kaleidoscope, issue of, 171 ; conclud- 
ing number of, 179, 386. 
Kemble, John, in Edinburgh, no. 
Kent's Cavern visited by R. Chambers, 

Kerr, Margaret, grandmother of Wil- 

Uam and Robert Chambers, 27. 
Kirk of Field, 127. 
Kirkwood, Miss Anne, married to R. 

Chambers, 217. 
Kirsty Cranston's school, 40. 
Knight, Charles, publisher, 234. 
Knox, William, poet, 155. 

Lackington, James, bookseller, 146. 
Laird Baird, of Peebles, 8. 
Lamartine, M., 314. 
Lauder, Sir Thomas Dick, on the 

parallel roads of Glenroy, 2S2. 
Leeds, Duke of, ancestors of, 300. 
Lees, Rev. J. Cameron, D.D., 367, 

369-370, 372, 374. 
Leila, R. Chambers's love affair vv'ith, 

196 ; her unhappy marriage, 335 ; 

provision made for, 336. 
Leith Walk, 141, 152. 
Lewis, Stewart, 172. 
Life assurance, R. Chambers on, 

Life o/yames I., by R. Chambers, 213, 

London Jonrnal established by Leigh 

Hunt, 247. 
Lottery tickets, sale of, 95, 96. 
Lumsden, James, artist, 52. 
Lyon in Mottrning, a. Jacobite ^IS., 

215. 34°- 

Macculloch, Dr, on the parallel roads 

of Glenroy, 2S2. 
M'Diarmid, John, of the Dumfries 

Courier, 284, 285. 
Mackenzie, Henry, 198, 209. 
Maclehose, Mrs, Burns's 'Clariuda,' 

Magdalene Bridge, 121. 
Marwuck, J. D., 351. 
Matthewson, an Edinburgh tj'pe^ 

founder, 169. 

Memoir of R. Cliambers, written by 
W. Chambers, 323. 

Alemoirs of a Banking House, by 
Forbes, 300. 

Mentone, wintering at, 322. 

Merchant Company of Edinburgh, 298. 

Mettray, juvenile reformatory at, 314. 

Miller, Hugh, letter to, from Robert 
Chambers, 135, 267 ; letters to R. 
Chambers from, 267; his contribu- 
tions to Chambers's Jourtial, 268. 

Miller, Robert, bookseller, 145. 

Milne-Home, Mr David, on the parallel 
roads of Glenroy, 282. 

Mirror, the, a cheap periodical, 229. 

Miscellany of Useful and Entertain- 
i>ig Tracts, Chambers's, 269. 

Mitford, Miss, visit to, by W. Cham- 
bers, 313. 

Mudie, George, editor of the Cornu- 
co/>ia, 231. 

Murchison, Sir Roderick L, 297. 

Murray, Mrs Alexander, 204. 

Napier of Magdala, Lord, 352. 
Nicholson, Sir Charles, 307. 
Noble, Sandy, 61. 
Norway, 286, 287. 

Patriot, the, a weekly periodical, 136. 

Peebles, birthplace of William and 
Robert Chambers, 5 ; described by 
Robert Chambers, 6-13 ; Cockbum 
on, 6 ; new town of, 14 ; schools 
characterised, 48 ; how Sunday 
was spent there, 63, 64 ; militia 
stationed at, 60 ; arrival of French 
prisoners at, 67 ; theatre extem- 
porised by French prisoners, 70 ; 
founding of Chambers's Institution 
at, 321 ; burial of W. Chambers at, 

372-374. 339- 

Penny Magazine, publication of, 234. 

Pharos, trips in the, 354, 355. 

Picture of Scotland, by R. Chambers, 
211, 308, 386. 

Pilrig Avenue, 142. 

Poetical Retnaiifs of Robert Cliam- 
bers, 391. 



Pollock, Sir George, 297. 

Ponsonby, Sir Henry, 370. 

Popular Rhymes 0/ Scotland, by R. 

Chambers, 210, 386. 
Porteous Mob, the, 98. 
rriniing Machine, the, a periodical. 

Prison rhyme, a, gg. 

Provence, Roman remains of, 314. 

Quarterly Rcvieiv on R. Chambers's 
History 0/ tlu Rebellion, 214. 

Queen, the, offers a baronetcy to W. 
Chambers, 365 ; her message after 
his death, 370. 

Queensberry, the Duchess of, 204. 

Ramsay, Dean, 217, 381. 
Rawlinson, Sir Henry, 297. 
Rebellions in Scotland, histories of, by 

R. Chambers, 213, 386. 
Rcikiana, by R. Chambers, 203, 209, 

Rcid, William, bookseller, Leith, 183. 
Riddell, Henry Scott, poet, 156. 
Riddell, James, merchant, 299. 
Ritchie, David, the original of the 

Black Divar/, 157; his cottage 

visited by Sir Adam Ferguson and 

W. Chambers, 317. 
Rob Roy, a likeness of, 193. 
Rogers, H. D., 307. 
Royston, near Edinburgh, 127. 
Ruthvcn, printer, Edinburgh, 160. 
Rye House Plot, loi. 

Salt, contraband trade in, 120. 

School of Arts, Edinburgh, no, 230. 

Scotland, History o/, by R. Chambers, 

Scott, a metrical history of the clan 
oi". S3- 

Scott, Rev. Archibald, D.D., 374-376. 

Scott, Sir Walter, describes the ' bore- 
slone' in Marmion, 127 ; affords R. 
Chambers an interview, 1S4, ios ; a 
second interview, iS3 ; contributions 
to the Traditions and Rhymes 0/ 
Scotland, 207 ; death and of, 
241 ; memoir of, by R. Chanibers, 

242 ; visit of, to Hallyards, in 
Peeblesshire, 316; references to, 
354, 355- 

Scott, Thomas, 186, 194. 

Scottish Ballads and Songs, by R. 
Chambers, 213, 386. 

Scottish Jests aiul Anecdates, col- 
lection of, by R. Chambers, 217, 387. 

Select Writings of R. Chambers, 276 ; 
' Delta's ' opinion of, 277. 

Sharpe, Charles Kirkpatrick, 201. 

Shortrede, John, of Jedburgh, 276. 

Sibbald, Captain, of the Old Tolbooth, 

Siddons, Mrs, at the old Edinburgh 
Theatre Royal, 303, 304. 

Sime, Alexander, shipbuilder, 182. 

Skerryvore Lighthouse, 354-355. 

Sloane's grammar-school, Peebles, 42, 


Smith, Rev. Sydney, interview of W. 
Chambers with, 311. 

Smollett, Life of, by R. Chambers, 325. 

Smollett, Sir James, grandfather of 
the novelist, 325. 

Snowing-up of the Peebles roads, 21. 

Social Science Tracts, by W. Cham- 
bers, 322. 

Society for the DifTusioa of Useful 
Knowledge, founding of the, 230. 

Soiree, the first in W. & R. Chambers's, 

Something of Haly, by W. Chambers, 

Spiritualism, views of R. Chambers 
on, 326. 

St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh, res- 
toration of, 357-364 ; re-opening of, 
366-371 ; funeral service for W. 
Chambers in, 371-372. 

Stall-keeping, the advantages of, 151. 

Stationarii, the original, 151. 

Sterne, value of, as a novelist, 56. 

Steuart, Sir Henry, of Allanton, Ji6. 

Stobic, excise officer, and ISurns, 120. 

Story pf a Long and Busy Li/e, by 
W. Chambers, 348. 

Superstitions, some old, ai. 

Susanna, Countess of E^lintnune, io\. 



Tarn Fleck of Peebles, 25. 

Tegg, Mr Thomas, cheap editions of 

standard works by, 144. 
Telford, Thomas, engineer, rhymes 

by, 228. 
Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, Old, 303. 
Things as tliey are in America, by 

W. Chambers, 303. 
Thomson, George, a contemporary of 

Burns, 253, 271. 
Threiplands of Fingask, 324 ; history 

of, 391. 
Tod-hunter Will of Peebles, 15. 
Tolbooth, the Old, 97-106 ; Captain 

Sibbald of, 100 ; Davie, a voluntary 

prisoner in, 102. 
Tour in Holland and the Rhine 

Countries, by W. Chambers, 265. 
Town Guard of Edinburgh, gg. 
Tracings in Iceland and the Faroe 

Islands, by R. Chambers, 295. 
Tracings in the North 0/ Etcrope, by 

R. Chambers, 2S6. 
Traditions of Edinburgh, the writing 

of, by R. Chambers, 197 ; great 

success of, 198-201 ; Scott's contri- 
butions to, 207, 386, 393. 
Trondhiem, climate of, 286. 
Trotter, John, of Mortonhall, 299. 

Tuttictt, Rev. Mr, funeral sermon on 

R. Chambers, 333. 
Tyndall, Professor, 307. 

Verulam House, the home of R 
Chambers in London, 306. 

Walker, W. S., of Bowland, 284. 
Walks in Edinburgh, by R. Cham 

bers, 210, 386. 
Wardlaw, Lady, of Pitreavie, 303. 
Watts, Mr, of the British Museum, 

Weavers, large wages earned by, 9. 
Weir, Major, story of, 128. 
Wilson, Professor, commends the 

Traditions in the Nodes, 209. 
Wilson, William, poet, 195 ; letter 

from R. Chambers to, 198 ; letter 

from, to R. Chambers, 265. 
Window Willie, 15. 
IVintering in Mentone, by W. 

Chambers, 322, 356. 
Witchcraft, a limited belief in, 20. 

Youth's Companio7i and Counsellor, 
by W. Chambers, 322. 

I Zumpt, Professor, 314. 

Edinburgh : 
Printed by W. & R. Chambers. 






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